Jim and Parker Anderson are ready and able to help keep skiers and snowboarders safe while they enjoy the outdoors at Ski Brule in Iron River, Mich.
The father-son team spent countless hours studying and training in order to be named to the Ski Patrol at Ski Brule.
Parker, a 16-year-old New London High School student, said he and his dad went to Ski Brule on the weekends last winter for training, and worked together to memorize the key points of outdoor emergency care.
“I first started skiing when I was about 10 years old,” said Parker. “My dad had cross-country skied when he was younger, but didn’t pick up downhill skiing until I started downhill skiing.”
“I had never downhill skied in my life,” said Jim. “I took a half-day lesson, and that was it. Every single time I skied, whether at Brule or Wausau or in Colorado, I was always afraid. I was literally afraid I’d break a bone. Almost every weekend, I’d take a nasty tumble. I had fun, but felt very much at risk.”
Jim’s fears would soon be quelled, with the help of the Ski Patrol team. The Ski Patrol works to keep guests safe and provide assistance if an accident does occur. The Ski Patrol motto is “First On, Last Off”, as Ski Patrollers are the first ones on the hill at the beginning of the day and the last ones off the hill in the evening.
“We first considered the idea of joining the Ski Patrol about two years ago when a patroller saw us and approached my dad about becoming part of the team,” said Parker. “We discussed it, and eventually decided to go for it once I was up to the age requirement. I was 15 at the time.”
“When I started to become involved with the Ski Patrol, I took eight weeks of instruction from certified instructors,” said Jim. “After that, I said, ‘Now I can ski!’ From the end of last February until now, I have skied with total confidence. They taught me how to ski safe and in control at all times and on all terrains/snow conditions; that’s something you can’t get out of one lesson.”
Parker and his father took the 12-week medical course together at Navarino Slopes and eventually continued to on-hill training. They began patrolling together late in the season.
“I was still 15, so I had to partner with an adult,” Parker said. “This year, since I’m now 16, I can patrol on my own.”
Parker said the outdoor emergency care class required many hours of studying. His mother, Jody Anderson, made flashcards for Jim and Parker to memorize, and the two worked diligently to master the concepts.
“My son and I got to be study buddies,” commented Jim. “Parker is in school, but I haven’t been in school for many years. I have a Master’s Degree in biology, but the amount of information we had to study for Ski Patrol was intimidating! Every week, we were assigned 90-100 pages to read. We had a mid-term test to see how we were doing, and then a final test. I studied very hard for many weeks. I was just as stressed out as I was when I was in college; but on the flipside, Parker was just fine with it. Every time I needed to do more studying, he was there to help me out.”
“The outdoor emergency care training is similar to the training that a first responder receives,” said Parker. “We’re like EMTs, but we don’t administer IVs or medications.”
Patrollers are trained to take injured guests down the hill in a toboggan safely so that they can be taken to professionals that administer a higher level of care.
“We have to take refresher courses annually, and we also have ski enhancement training that is free for patrollers,” said Parker. “There is a cost to be part of the patrol team, but all of the training is free after you pay your dues.
“A common misconception is that patrollers are paid,” said Parker. “At a few places, patrollers are paid, but where we patrol – and at most other hills – it’s a team of volunteers. We do receive free passes for the hours that we work, which we can share with friends and family members.
“Another misconception is that to be a ski patroller, you have to be an expert skier,” said Parker. “This isn’t true. You can still be a member of the ski patrol without knowing how to ski. There are some volunteers who are stationed at the bottom of the hill to provide medical attention once injured guests are safely brought down the slopes.”
“Patrollers are trained in controlled skiing,” added Jim. “Being trained as a patroller is very different than being an expert skier. You have to be in control at all times. I am a much better skier now than I was before, because training with the patrollers really teaches you how to ski. One of the guys in class last year had never been on skis before, and by the end of the season, he was a proficient, controlled skier.”
Parker stated that it’s not just skiers who can be on the patrol team – snowboarders are also welcome.
Ski patrollers are trained to apply their safety skills to any situation. Helping injured guests is always the top goal, and in order to do so, patrollers must be adept at toboggan safety and medical assistance. These requirements lead patrollers to work closely with one another and help each other at all times.
“There is a lot of camaraderie among the patrollers,” said Parker. “Everyone is quick to help out, and when we all work together, we can get an injured guest off the hill within five minutes.
“Most of the time, people fall and injure themselves, but the needs are not always that typical. Sometimes, people get too cold and need to be helped to shelter,” said Parker. “Other times, patrollers are required to put up ropes and ribbons to close off unsafe areas. We assist with anything that is safety related, not just injuries.”
Special “Ski with a Patroller” days allow people to shadow a patroller and observe them dealing with injuries.
“We used to only do one ‘Ski with a Patroller Day’ each year,” said Parker. “Now, we have a more accommodating schedule. Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Ski Patrol can ski with a patroller to see what it’s like. Anyone interested can call Valerie Plasky at 920-434-1604 to learn more about the event and schedule a day to hit the slopes with a patroller and see what we do on a daily basis. It’s free for anyone interested in becoming part of the Ski Patrol team, and we’re there from open to close.”
Parker said he expects to continue being a patroller through his high school years and beyond.
“It’s been really fun to patrol at Ski Brule. It’s a great hill to work at,” he said. “My overall experience has been very good. I’m one of the only kids on the patrol team, and everyone has been very welcoming. It’s fun to ski with others and help people.”
“Parker is the youngest one on the Ski Patrol at Ski Brule,” said Jim. “He’s treated just like anybody else. When a call comes in, he doesn’t even hesitate. He is willing to take any call that comes over the radio, and the other patrollers have lots of confidence in him.”
This season, Parker will volunteer between 80-100 hours as a Ski Patroller. He is one of 40 people who give of their time for other people’s benefit.
“Both Parker and my daughter Celia have been brought up knowing the importance of volunteering and giving of their time to help others,” said Jim. “The Ski Patrol was an absolute natural decision for Parker, and Celia has asked to be part of the Ski Patrol team when she is old enough.
“I expect to stay with the Ski Patrol as long as I can,” concluded Jim. “I like to volunteer my time, and what better place to be in winter than at a ski hill? Some of my mentors were Ski Patrollers all their lives, and I have missed out on many years of skiing. I’m trying to make up for it now; I’m hooked!”