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The Tools They Carry: Ski Patrollers’ Most Important Gear

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Photo: Max Whittaker
A regular day of skiing requires a lot of gear, so you can imagine how much ski patrollers have to carry while they’re out keeping us safe on the slopes. To find out exactly what they pack, we caught up with Robin McElroy, an 11-year veteran of the Squaw Valley Ski Patrol, Alaskan heli-ski guide, and former big-mountain ski competitor.
Photo: Max Whittaker
The North Face Powder Guide Vest

Squaw issues The North Face Powder Guide vest to its patrollers. It fits all of McElroy’s essential work gear, like her radio and medical supplies. She can access everything but her shovel and probe without taking off the vest, and it’s easier than a pack to wear on the chairlift.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Leatherman Wave Multitool

McElroy bought her Leatherman from a pawn shop in Reno, Nevada, during her rookie season as a Squaw patroller. She keeps it strapped to the front of her vest. Her favorite tool is the saw, which she uses to cut frozen and broken caution signs.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Motorola XPR 6350 Radio

Communication is key for patrollers as they report and respond to injuries, relay condition reports, and ensure everyone is safe while tossing charges for avalanche control. When heli-ski guiding in Alaska, McElroy and her fellow guides use BCA’s BC Link radios, which have handy lapel mics, and they hand out Motorola Talkabout radios to their clients so everyone can stay in touch and move safely through the terrain.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Straps

McElroy regularly uses straps to haul signs across Squaw. The stretchy Belico strap (top), which she got while on a ski patrol exchange program in Australia, is easy to tighten as the bundle gets smaller. The classic Voile strap (below) is a good sign organizer as well but can also be used as an emergency tourniquet, to help make a splint, or to fix a broken binding.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Patrol Map

Squaw’s patrol map is a much more detailed version of the trail map the resort hands out to customers. For example, it has a grid system that helps McElroy and her fellow patrollers more accurately communicate the locations of accidents and avalanche work. It also includes radio codes and a detailed rescue equipment inventory for each patrol shack.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Tape and Trauma Shears

McElroy keeps medical tape and trauma shears handy for accidents, but she uses them more often for managing boundary ropes. The ropes easily fray when cut, so McElroy first tapes the ropes and then cuts them through the tape to leave two unfrayed ends.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Snow Safety Gear

McElroy carries her snow safety gear—a BCA SR3 probe, Pieps DSP Pro beacon, and BCA B-2 EXT shovel—at all times. These items are issued to Squaw patrollers, but they’re also the ones she recommends. McElroy says backcountry skiers often make the mistake of getting the lightest items available, but she’d rather have the longest probe and sturdiest shovel, regardless of weight. While she doesn’t think it’s necessary for inbounds resort skiers to carry all three, she highly recommends wearing a beacon on days when the resort is doing avalanche control. If a slide is reported in an area where there are skiers, the first thing McElroy and her fellow patrollers do is perform a beacon search on the slide debris.
Photo: Max Whittaker
SAM Splint

Patrollers see a lot of wrist and arm injuries on the hill, so McElroy carries a SAM splint in her vest. She’ll splint an injury, secure it with gauze, and use a cravat to make a sling. This splint so light that she also carries it on personal trips. It’s way better than using “sticks and a sweatshirt,” McElroy says.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Burt’s Bees Lip Balm

McElroy is completely addicted to Burt’s Bees lip balm. She buys them in four-packs and keeps them in her truck, vest pocket, and on her nightstand. Nothing works better on sun-ravaged lips.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Black Diamond Telekneesis Knee Pads

McElroy isn’t a tele-skier, but she always wears knee pads while patrolling for protection and warmth while kneeling with patients. They also keep her knees unbruised while scrambling over rocks to toss avalanche charges.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Arcade Belt

McElroy loves her Arcade belt. It keeps her pants up securely and comfortably but is stretchy enough to adapt to her movements.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody

More than half of Squaw Valley’s patrollers wear a Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody as their insulating layer. It’s lightweight, compressible, and breathable. McElroy also likes it’s soft feel that doesn’t gather static electricity with her long hair.
Photo: Max Whittaker
POC Fovea Goggles and Fornix Helmet

McElroy likes her POC Fornix helmet because the vents are easy to adjust, and because it features MIPS, which helps keep her safe if she falls. She loves the Fovea goggles for their massive peripheral vision.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Buff

McElroy wears a Buff every day on patrol. She keeps it around her neck to prevent zipper chafing from her jacket, and she’ll pull it over her nose and mouth on colder days. In summer, McElroy wears it under her helmet while mountain biking or over her face during Burning Man dust storms. It also adds some personal flair to her issued uniform. She has a huge collection, but her favorite is this American flag and Alaskan flag mashup (she was born in Alaska).

Photo: Max Whittaker
High-Angle Rescue Gear

All patrollers carry high-angle rescue gear, including two locking carabiners, two 14-foot webbing slings, one Prusik, and a length of surveyor’s cord or parachute cord. This gear is used mostly for chairlift rescues or to help a gripped skier get down a run.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Blizzard Cochise Skis

McElroy likes the versatility of her Blizzard Cochise skis for patrolling. With a 108-millimeter waist, they handle powder and groomed snow equally well. They’re also damp, which helps when pulling a sled. The squared-off tails don’t spray snow onto an injured person in a sled and are better for kick turns on steep slopes.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Soul Poles

These poles, handmade in Park City, Utah, feature a bamboo shaft that’s all natural and stronger than aluminum. The grips are built from recycled materials. McElroy had her name custom engraved on her poles.
Photo: Max Whittaker
Wary AviPack 33L

While doing avalanche control work, McElroy needs a pack that can hold ten to 14 explosive charges and her snow safety gear. The Wary AviPack 33L (now discontinued) does all that and houses an air bag

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