By Sue Elder, Inter-Mountain Zone (

Patrolling at the 2022 Winter Olympic/Paralympic Games in Beijing was an amazing experience. I have 30 years of volunteer patrol experience, and I am a paramedic by trade. My home mountain is Sun Peaks Resort. I am also a member of the Winterstart World Cup patrol at Lake Louise, and had previously patrolled at Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sue at the start

In January 2020 patrollers from the Winterstart team were set to work the pre-Bejing Olympics test events. I had set out early to enjoy a little tourist time and was in the air when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded and all tourism in China was shut down. The races were cancelled and I managed to get a seat on one of the last flights home.

The Winterstart team had been asked to patrol at Beijing but in the end the team declined the invitation. After careful consideration of all the pros and cons, I decided to to commit to the two-months of paid patrol work. In mid-January 2022 I set out for Yanquing. There was COVID testing on a daily basis, we wore N95 masks at all times and were not allowed to go anywhere except the hotel, hotel grounds and the venue. No patrollers contracted COVID while working in China.

The daily trek from the hotel (very nice and the food was excellent) to the competition venue was an hour bus ride which passed the sliding centre and athletes’ village. Both looked very nice but were off limits for those not directly working there. Then the road snaked its way up the hillside to the National Alpine Skiing Centre on Haituo Mountain, which had been created for racing and training only, not for the public. The runs were white ribbons of man-made snow corralled by miles of safety netting with brown, rocky and barren slopes on all sides. On a clear day you could see the Great Wall in the distance. The weather was generally sunny, windy and cold; some days the lifts couldn’t run due to the winds.

Sue and team on station

The international team of patrollers was only 21, mostly American plus patrollers from Argentina, Sweden, France and England with me the only Canadian. I was also the only one with speed event patrolling experience. The local Chinese patrollers were funny, friendly and willing to learn. Conversations were basic with lots of pantomime, body language and fist bumps. Important conversations went through translators.

On course each station was staffed by at least one local and one international patroller plus one international and one local doctor. It got crowded at times! Some of the doctors had no first aid experience. The group agreed that the patrollers should be ‘first in’ with the doctors only called in when necessary.

We carried our personal first aid kits in patrol vests that were loaned to us. Radios were unreliable and tricky to use. We had a fleet of Cascade toboggans with tarps, vacuum mattresses, blankets and wrap leg splints. The vac mats were fast, comfortable and effective, but had to be stored overnight in a warm location, which resulted in a lot of equipment movement each day. Trauma packs were carried by the doctors. We also had equipment for high-angle technical rope rescues, which fortunately we didn’t have to use. Anyone who fell always slid down to the relative flats below.

Sue and Dwen Dwen

During the training phase the organizers realized that the original helicopter/winch evacuation was not safe due to brutal crosswinds. It was pointed out that patrollers could treat and transport patients quickly and safely by toboggan with the helicopter standing by at the bottom. If further treatment was required patients were transported by ambulance to the local hospital. Only a few were airlifted from the base. Most falls resulted in impressively long, uncontrolled slides and a fair amount of broken race gear. There were several extremity fractures and dislocations caused when racers hit a net or gate. Several course workers were also injured when they went for long slides down icy pitches. By March several had wrecked their knees in the thick spring snow. A course worker on crutches was a common sight.

The canyon at the bottom of the downhill course

The competition work schedule was gruelling, with very long days and few days off to rest. Between the Olympic and Paralympic games there was a rest period before the schedule picked up again. Over the course of the two months it worked out to six days of duty out of every seven. And, in the gap we were moved to a lower-quality hotel – which was adequate but disappointing after the previous experience.

The venue was built and operated by a team of Russians working with the Chinese. Between the two sets of games the war in Ukraine broke out. The Russian Paralympians were sent home, but the Russian course workers were kept on site. They were needed to run the races.

Attempts at translation provided much amusement. One morning we received a message that the gondola would be closed because there were “insufficient personnel to kill.”

By the end of the two months it seemed like we had just arrived. It was hard to say goodbye to colleagues who had shared so much time together. The memories of this epic journey will last a lifetime. Thanks go to China for putting on an amazing show and hosting us at a difficult time.

Photos courtesy of Sue Elder

Patrolling in Beijing 2022

This post is also available in: Français