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Meet the Ski Patrollers Who Keep You Safe
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Episode six of Steeped in Tradition, from Sweetgrass Productions, profiles the ski patrollers who rise before the morning crowds to mitigate risk on the slopes of Alta, Utah.
[MUSIC PLAYING] DAVE RICHARDS: A day in the life of the Alta ski patrol is different every day. We're in a mountain environment and things change. We're forecasting for those changes and weather and snowpack, and we're reacting to those changes.
TITUS CASE: It's a story. Every year is a new story. Every winter is a new story, a new plot. What's going on in the snowpack and how do we deal with it? And you just have to be on top of it and pay attention to it on a daily basis.
DAVE RICHARDS: Alta is high elevations, steep terrain, and we get a lot of snow. And that presents us a lot of avalanche challenges. That's what makes the skiing really good and also makes the job exciting. The people that do this job are passionate about the mountains. They work hard every day, day in day out, all winter long, because they love this place. Nobody is getting rich doing this job. We're getting paid in powder, and that's what it's really all about. Teamwork. On a ski patrol, you rely on each other literally for your lives when you're running routes.
CHRISTAL MCCRARY: You have to have your route partner's back when you're out there or if you're working on some sort of trauma. Other patrollers are going to be there backing you up.
- Sniff out heavy mountain, some smoke on the breeze. Want to get back to those warm nights down in New Orleans. Hopped on to the freight line bound for Tennessee. Said he was a sailing man born in Chesapeake.
DAVE RICHARDS: There's a lot of history in ski patrolling and snow science here in Alta, more than 80 years worth. It's one of the first places that we studied snow in the United States. The first use of explosives and artillery for avalanche mitigation took place in this canyon.
TITUS CASE: You know, we stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us.
JONATHAN MORGAN: We opened up in 1938, and right away it was realized, if we're going to provide a place for people to recreate, we need to deal with this avalanche problem.
DAVE RICHARDS: Without resort avalanche mitigation, the avalanche hazard would exist at an unacceptable level to run a ski area or a highway or have the town of Alta at all.
JONATHAN MORGAN: You know, you always have to remember that you're in the mountains. We cannot change that. You just have to have a lot of respect.
DAVE RICHARDS: We now have advanced our technology, but the concept is the same-- use explosives to affect a wide area of the snowpack without exposing yourself to it personally.
- Some things follow anywhere you go.
CHRISTAL MCCRARY: We use a couple different techniques for our avalanche mitigation, both using explosives and ski cuts. It takes years to learn about snowpack, but what keeps people coming back is that need to have physical and mental challenges.
TITUS CASE: There are some days where we don't get to do a lot of skiing. Then there are other days when we do. And that's nice, to be able to enjoy the fruits of the work that you've done. There is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when you get areas open and watch people having a great time skiing and getting that speed up. Because that is our goal.
DAVE RICHARDS: The best part of this job is when it's full swing for days on end. Big storms and you're up early every single day and you're digging this place out. That's when the job really makes it worth it.
- Sang myself to sleep last night under the canopy. Where the moonlight danced with the silhouettes of the weeping willow trees. Caroline, someday may find my wings beneath your breeze. The current blows, the ebb and flow, that's where I'm gonna be. You can find your hollow shelter of stone anytime you get low, but some things follow everywhere you go.