"If you are paying $60 for a lift ticket, lashing two toboggans together is not an appropriate medical response," says Eric Jacobson. "It's a flaky system." Jacobson is referring to tandem toboggans (or, in ski-patrol parlance, "meat wagons"), the chief means of carting injured skiers off the mountain at most resorts. In search of an alternative, Jacobson, an entrepreneur from Telluride, Colorado, teamed up with his cousin Roy Davis (who sells swimming pools in Kalamazoo, Michigan) and designed a vehicle capable of offering skiers state-of-the-art emergency medical care.
Christened the Medi-Cat, the machine is a tracked snow ambulance equipped with oxygen tanks, defibrillators, IVs, and heart monitors. Its 212-horsepower engine and rubberized treads will, in theory, bring ER-quality help right to the scene of the accident. "This machine can deliver the highest standard of care," says Art Seely, director of Littleton, Colorado's Snow Operations Training Center. "If you have a spinal injury, the first handling of the patient can make a difference between recovery and permanent paralysis."
Surprisingly, the company's most logical customers have little interest: Not a single ski resort has placed an order. The $250,000 price tag and the machine's inability to climb the steep stuff seem to be deal-breakers. "It's a limited-use vehicle and can only travel on certain slopes," explains Bob Persons, medical supervisor for the ski patrol at Colorado's Keystone Resort, whose request for a Medi-Cat was denied by management for cost reasons. Nonetheless, the partners hope it's only a matter of time before resorts are seduced by the Medi-Cat's special features, such as the compressed-air foam firefighting system that, Davis insists, would be perfect for Vail (which suffered a $12 million arson incident in October 1998). "Right now," he says, "if there's another fire, the only thing they can do is show up with a weenie-roast fork."