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Girls get a taste of ski mountain rescue

Junior Ski Patrol Day gives girls a chance to try out the profession of saving people.

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Wild Skills

“Who wants to be injured?”

Half a dozen hands shot up outside the ski patrol station at the top of the Apres Vous chairlift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

“Super injured!”

“Injured, please.”

Manners prevailed as girls jockeyed for the job of fallen skier. During the mock rescue, a half dozen girls gathered around the “injured party” as ski patroller Megan Raczak coached them. Raczak handed her radio to Esbeidy Gamez, 14, kneeling beside her.

Wild Skills

Sophie Bess focuses on not letting go as she transports Brook Greenblatt, 8, down the slope in a rescue toboggan. The nonprofit SheJumps and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offered the Junior Ski Patrol Day camp.

“Hello, Mountain Station,” Esbeidy said into the radio. “I’ve got a 9-year-old with a back injury.”

Making the drill feel real, another ski patroller played dispatch on the other end of the line, taking the call and quizzing Esbeidy for details. Raczak reminded her to give a location.

“This is so confusing,” Esbeidy said, a little flustered as she managed the flow of information.

Another group ran a similar drill inside the Apres Vous ski patrol station, a small cabin where the girls huddled between a pot-bellied stove and wooden table. In both scenarios the ski patrollers rolled out bright orange sacks that looked like flattened bean bags — wide enough to roll a person up like a burrito. Called a “suck bag,” the contraption has replaced more traditional backboards as the go-to rescue gear to stabilize backs, knees, necks, shoulders and other injuries.

The nonprofit SheJumps partnered with the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Doug Coombs Foundation and Jackson Hole Babe Force to offer a Junior Ski Patrol Day on Feb. 9 for girls to learn mountain safety and first aid. SheJumps offers low-cost educational opportunities for women and girls to increase their confidence, leadership and participation in outdoor activities. The group has run similar exercises at other resorts, but this camp was a first for Jackson.

During the day the girls divided into groups of eight to 10 with three volunteers and two professional patrollers. The event drew 65 girls, 21 volunteers and 14 pro patrollers, making it the largest Junior Ski Patrol Day ever hosted by the nonprofit, according to SheJumps Wild Skills Director Christy Pelland.

The groups moved through stations where they learned about first aid, avalanche control, snow science, communication, weather stations, toboggans, avalanche dogs and other mountain gear and methods. Resort President Mary Kate Buckley kicked off the morning by encouraging the girls to see the resort’s women patrollers as role models, along with other strong women in their mountain community.

Moran resident Mary Greenblatt heard about the camp through her daughter’s ski school instructor. Brook, 8, was among the youngest in the program for girls ages 8 to 17.

Wild Skills

The lunchroom explodes with laughter as Jasmin Carrillo pulls an avalanche air bag to see how it works. Ski patrollers Adrienne Kirkwood, left, and Jen Calder, right, lead the demonstration, showing the young women the variety of work ski patrollers do on the job.

“I think it was neat for her to see what ski patrol does behind the scenes on the mountain,” Greenblatt said. “How they keep everyone safe.”

Greenblatt also liked how the program paired girls with female patrollers to inspire and empower the young women. Patrollers let the girls try on their gear, handing over their vests and packs to show them what they carry on the job.

Greenblatt caught up with Brook underneath the Casper chairlift, where she filmed the 8-year-old running and riding in a rescue toboggan.

Before the girls took the horns — or handles, rather — Melissa Malm described how moving a loaded toboggan downhill can be one of the most difficult parts of a ski patroller’s job.

“You have somebody’s life in your hands,” she said. “The No. 1 rule is you don’t let go. Call for help if you need it.”

Raczak tried to put the girls in the boots of their patient.

Wild Skills

Ski patrollers show teams how to search for buried treasure with a beacon, probe and shovel.

“This can be a really scary thing for someone who is hurt,” Raczak said.

After the toboggan drill, the girls headed inside for lunch. One of the sweeter lessons included learning avalanche rescue techniques in order to find dessert. Organizers had buried bags of cinnamon rolls and brownies with avalanche beacons several feet under the snow. Teams learned how to use one beacon to find another, and when to shovel and when to probe.

“Shovels stop. Everyone stop,” patroller Adrienne Kirkwood told her group. “We’re going to probe.”

When Kiera Jackson, 10, plunged the shiny tent-pole-like probe into the snow, she struck something.

“Oh, I feel something squishy,” she said. Shoveling quickly recommenced.

After lunch the girls took turns climbing into a “dog hole” in the snow below the Headwall to wait for a trained rescue dog to sniff them out. For an animal lover like Brook, that was the highlight of the day.

Afterward she told her mom “it was the best day ever,” Mary Greenblatt said, adding with a laugh that “she said the only thing that would have been better was getting a horse.”

Ellie Reynolds, 11, came all the way from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to participate. Jackson offered the closest Junior Ski Patrol camp to her home, she said.

Inside the Apres Vous hut she kneeled next to the other girls learning how to use the suck bag. Rescue gear stashed in every corner of the rustic outpost added to the ambiance.

Wild Skills

Avalanche dog Luna is rewarded with a game of tug-of-war after finding a skier hidden in a hole to simulate an avalanche burial. Assistant Ski Patrol Director Scott Stolte praises Sable.

Ellie took a turn on the pump, which she described as “kind of like pumping up a bike tire.”

But instead of pumping air into the bag, it sucked air out. As she pumped, removing air, the bag became rigid. The bags are warmer and more comfortable for patients than traditional backboards, the patrollers explained.

“The goal is to keep your head and your spine in line,” Raczak said, as she coached her crew to mold the bag to their patient.

Once the teams had sucked enough air out of the bags they prepared to move their patients.

Patroller Alaina Macauley coached her team in proper lifting technique.

“Is anybody not ready?” she asked before starting a countdown so everyone lifted at once.

After the exercise the girls noted how working together lightened the load, making it easy to carry a patient — even one weighted down by ski boots and ski gear — to a toboggan.

After running the scenario, 13-year-old Gabby Batchen turned to her ski patrol mentor, eager to share: “After all the stuff we’ve done, I kind of want to be a ski patroller.”

Wild Skills

Ski Patrollers Melissa Malm, right, and Megan Raczak show girls how to fasten a “suck bag” around an injured person before moving a skier in this mock rescue at the Apres Vous ski patrol station.

Contact Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington at 732-7078 or

Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington has worked for newspapers across the West. She hosts a rescue podcast, The Fine Line. Her family minivan doubles as her not-so-high-tech recording studio.

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(1) comment

steven Summers

What a great idea!

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