By Stephanie MacLean-Stirling, New Patroller at Ski Martock, Scotia Zone, Atlantic East Division (

Where are my newbie patrollers? Ah! There you are. With that wide-eyed look of a new patroller. If you’re reading this give yourself a hug and a high five. Celebrate, because what you’ve done is so much more than surviving the hours of training and evaluations. Hey old-timers, do you remember what it feels like to be new patroller?

Here’s a look into my first season:

I joined ski patrol for several reasons; the first is because my mom patrolled in the ‘80s. She taught me to ski as a kid, she always inspired me. The second reason is because of my kids, I’ve always told them to “look for the helpers” and now it’s time for me to walk the talk. The third reason I joined was just for me, I am five years out of recovery from a health scare that changed my life. Joining the Canadian Ski Patrol is my way of reconnecting and I’m overjoyed to say it makes me feel good.

On my first night of advanced first aid training, I walked into a small class filled with teachers and Tim, our instructor. I stuck out like a sore thumb, but despite the vast knowledge gap I was not left behind or made to feel inadequate. I was welcomed for exactly who I was in that space. I squeezed every drop of info I could get out of classmates and instructors. That’s when I got my first glimpse into the caliber of people, I was meeting. I asked question after question and practiced and practiced. They made it seem so natural. They laughed with me, they explained things, and encouraged me at every step.

The pace of the first aid training was a good warm up for the real work. One to two sessions a week is a lot. When I wasn’t in class, I was peeling potatoes, watching modules, and writing notes. Supper never took as long to prepare in my whole life. This multi-tasking momma loved this – there were only a few checkboxes that stood between me and mastering the patient assessment. I don’t remember how many I got checked off, but I can tell you I practiced endlessly and finally mastered it. The testing process validated my efforts. Instructors and recertifying patrollers sharing tips and tricks all along the way and…I made it through. What came next, I was not completely prepared for.

When the hill opened, and the on-snow part of the learning curve was fully revealed and I was anxious! My ski evaluation was on my second day, only four hours of ski time into the season. Yours probably was too. I was so nervous; my home-grown skills were showing. Although I’ve always prided myself on being a safe skier that night it didn’t seem like enough. It was, but I had work to do. Everyone skied with such ease and did it as though they’d been skiing longer than I’d been alive. My goals were simple, to learn, to improve, to try everything, to not back down. I wanted everyone to know they could rely on me. I didn’t master all the skills this first season; but I wanted to be someone that would show up and try. The skiing skills were not where the learning curve stopped. I needed to learn the names of all the patrollers that I work with and all the hill staff. There were the hill procedures and policies and the locations of all the safety fences are and how to fix them and take them down. I learned what supplies you need to have in your first aid kit, what equipment is available at the call on my radio. I became familiar with where the supplies were – and most importantly where the stickers were kept! I was trained on how to use the radio, how to use the elevator, and how to set up the wheelchair. I learned how to break down the hill so I could accurately locate an incident or communicate where I was to other patrollers. I even learned where the ice machine is, how to use the resort photocopier, and the secret hallways through the lodge. I was taught how to cross my skis at an incident site when the snow is exceptionally firm (a skill that eludes me still).

Knowing when to sign out when your brain is telling you you’ve maxed out on learning for the day is important. Don’t forget you’re practicing your ski skills the whole time, sideslipping every headwall between top chair and the lodge. Before too long the on-snow instructors are going to try and put a toboggan behind you. From there the learning curve jumps up again. Now you’re skiing with weight behind you which, let’s face it, no-one has ever done for fun. That weight has a live human in it! The learning curve seemed like it would never level off.

You know what made pushing through all this worth it? The returning patrollers and instructors. There wasn’t one shift that I just worked. (Let’s face it, this is work.) I always had someone offer to teach me something. Even if it was skiing together to remind you to have fun at the same time, I was being taught every second of every shift. There is always a patroller to share their stories. Always a patroller who wanted to work on some ski skills. Even small things like offering a quick tip about how the waist pack should sit, and all the customer service tips. Sometimes it was important stuff; like my radio call wasn’t working properly. I spent time in the hut with colleagues working on first aid, on paperwork and procedures. One even taught me how to order a proper Martock breakfast any time of day. I have never joined a workplace, volunteer, or community group like this one. I have never had the support I have had with the Canadian Ski Patrol.

To all newbies who come behind me, I have some advice: On my first incident I forgot how to work a simple zipper on an equipment bag; however no-one yelled at me, they pulled it open and continued with the scene. What I did remember though is how to fill the empty space during a patient log roll. Your training does kick in, you’ll miss some things sure, but your training is there and it will come through. Keep at it.

For me, everything worked out. It worked out because of the support and the effort of the returning patrollers who had my back. For newcomers, you are not alone, be up front with everyone around you, admit when you don’t know something. Speak up when you do. Your learning curve is the steepest pitch you’ll ever do. But it’s all worth it.

The steepest pitch you’ll ever do