By: Shoana Beveridge, Greater Vancouver Zone Board Chair, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Michael “Doc” Swangard.
Dr. Swangard was a highly respected and influential figure in the Canadian Ski Patrol and a founding member of Greater Vancouver Zone (GVZ). GVZ was founded under Doc’s leadership at Hemlock Valley Resort, now known as Sasquatch Mountain Resort, when it was a part of the Western Alpine Ski Patrol. He played a significant role in the establishment and growth of GVZ over his 44 years of service to the organization. His encouragement, mentorship and leadership were instrumental in developing the zone and expanding its reach to encompass multiple ski resorts such as Sasquatch Mountain Resort, Manning Park, Mount Arrowsmith, Mount Seymour and Cypress Mountain. His vision has become a zone of approximately 150 patrollers today.
Doc’s dedication to securing resources and training equipment for the zone exemplified his unwavering determination and commitment to the organization. In 1980, while serving as the zone treasurer and with the management team, Doc recognized an opportunity and took the initiative to create GVZ’s inaugural Fraser Valley Ski Swap. From modest beginnings in an Abbotsford church basement, it has become the Winter Extreme Ski & Board Swap, one of the largest in Canada.
In 1985 Dr. Swangard became Canada’s delegate to the International Commission of Alpine Rescue (IKAR). He rarely missed an annual conference, funding his own participation in these conferences (usually held in Europe) and bringing back valuable ideas to the CSP. Through these contacts, Doc developed what is now called the CSP Bergwacht Exchange. This is a yearly exchange between Germany’s Bergwacht, the German Ski Patrol, and the CSP, where a select few members of each organization are hosted by the other. In Germany our patrol attends a two-week intense outdoor winter rescue training course, held at several resorts. Back in B.C., GVZ hosts the Bergwacht on a two-week tour of various resorts in the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan where they participate in patrol events. Over the past 38 years, more than 70 CSP members have taken advantage of this program, brought home great ideas and become better patrollers because of it.
Doc’s continued involvement with Germany’s Bergwacht, IKAR, and collaboration with the Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing operation, highlight his dedication to fostering international connections and sharing knowledge within the patrolling community. Doc continued to assist with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing to establish a team of rotating doctors so that there was always one present on-site throughout the season, as otherwise the closest doctor was one hour away.
Being asked to participate on the CSP National Medical Advisory Committee in 1987 speaks to Dr. Swangard’s reputation and knowledge in the field. This position allowed him to influence and shape the policies and practices of the CSP. Doc’s proposals and documentation had a direct impact on the patrol and in 1988 his vision for an oxygen protocol was approved. In 2001, Doc’s proposal for an oropharyngeal airway (OPA) protocol was accepted, and in 2002 another proposal for an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) protocol was approved. These initiatives demonstrate Doc’s commitment to improving the medical practices and emergency response capabilities of the CSP and a prolonged lifelong involvement with the organization.
Doc’s unwavering determination and perseverance allowed GVZ to acquire a gaming licence in British Columbia. Two of our zone’s most important purchases to help better support the growing membership were both alpine rescue centres. One was established at Hemlock Valley and the other at Manning Park. Also, recognizing the need for continuous training, a training and coordination centre (TCC) was acquired. The TCC provides a classroom and meeting room for educational purposes, as well as secure storage for all the equipment required to attend to the public while carrying out our duties.
In 1991, Doc initiated another key component of GVZ. An elected board was established to oversee the actions of the GVZ executive and concentrate on the zone’s strategic direction. Doc served for many years as the first chairperson of the board. As part of this function and to acquire a gaming licence in B.C., Doc wrote the GVZ constitution and bylaws along with setting GVZ up as a not-for-profit society in B.C. the same year.
When it came to the mountains, Doc’s passion for the CSP was ignited long before he formed GVZ. His love for the outdoors and his dedication to safety led him to write his PhD thesis on hypothermia. He managed to obtain a research grant from Volkswagen in Germany, which was matched by Canada’s National Research Council. This was then used for additional hypothermia research and subsequently incorporated into developing the fitness criteria for the Canada Parks guides. In 1993 he wrote the section of the CSP manual dealing with heat and cold injuries still in use today.
In 1993 Michael developed a ski helmet safety program primarily directed at children. He organized a co-sponsorship from the BC Medical Association (now Doctors of BC). The BCMA fully funded this flier and poster program for more than four years thanks to Doc. To further professionalize the CSP environment, Doc co-wrote the GVZ harassment and discrimination policy in 1997. This was adopted in a GVZ general meeting and was approved and used as a template for volunteer agencies by the B.C. Crown Counsel.
Although Doc eventually set his skis aside, his passion for the mountains and his commitment to safety never waned. Doc developed the avalanche transceiver testing methodology used in four (soon to be five) internationally published Transceiver Test results, first presented at IKAR as a joint project between the CSP and the Canadian Ski Guide Association. Transceivers are essential devices used in avalanche rescue operations and through thorough testing and evaluation, Doc aimed to provide this valuable information to fellow skiers and snow enthusiasts about the performance and reliability of these life-saving devices. Two days before his passing, Doc was still advocating avalanche beacon testing and setting up the testing.
Doc initiated CSP’s approach to the Vancouver 2010 bid committee to help Vancouver win the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. He was an integral part of putting together the bid book through his work on the Vancouver Winter 2010 Safety and Security Committee. Because of this initiative, the CSP was named the on-hill first aid service provider for the 2010 Winter Olympic athletes at the four outdoor venues.
Recognition of all Doc’s accomplishments has come in the form of his earning many zone awards. Additionally, the CSP honoured him at the national level, acknowledging his outstanding achievements and dedication. Doc received Canadian Ski Patroller Award No. 564 in 1989 for his exceptional performance and contributions as a ski patroller and by demonstrating his dedication to education and safety. He was presented with Life Member Award No. 50 in 2004, the highest award bestowed by the CSP. This award is a testament to his long-standing commitment, leadership, and significant impact within the organization. These awards from all levels of the organization highlight the immense appreciation and recognition that our organization has for him.
Doc was not only a skilled professional but also a compassionate and nurturing individual. His humility, generosity, and empathy endeared him to his fellow patrollers and others he interacted with. His legacy will undoubtedly live on through the continued work and dedication of his CSP family, as they strive to honour his memory and carry forward his vision.
We offer our deepest condolences to Doc’s wife Kathy, his son, Michael, daughter-in-law Gally, his two grandchildren, Jack and Katie, and all his family members. His presence will be missed, but the impact he made during his lifetime will be remembered and cherished.
(With contributions from Marc Slabotsky, Lindsay Pastro, Scott Burgess and Denis Dion.)
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