With ski season just around the corner, most of Carson Ski Patrol's 20-strong contingent headed up to Heavenly Ski Resort for a weekend refresher on a snow-free mountain.
They practiced evacuating people from stopped chairlifts Sunday morning after helping guide a helicopter down in the Stagecoach Lodge area atop Kingsbury Grade.
The day before, ski patrols from Carson City, the Bay Area and Heavenly's own patrol dealt with mass casualties from a mock propane tank explosion.
"There were amputees and people with embedded foreign objects," said John Ediss, patrol director of the Carson Ski Patrol.
The volunteer Carson Ski Patrol augments the paid patrollers at Heavenly as do the Golden Gate and Skyline ski patrols from the San Francisco area.
Working ski patrol means long days on the mountain, watching the sun rise and set, decked out in black pants and a bright red jacket adorned with a white cross. A patrol shift runs from checking the slopes before the first skiers arrive in the morning until the final sweep for stray skiers after the slope closes for the day.
Carson's patrollers fit their shifts into their weekends.
"You set your own schedule," said Ediss, a Carson City chiropractor. "We could come up every day but we don't because we have real jobs."
Ediss said the Carson Ski Patrol has an unusually high number of doctors, including himself, a dentist, a dermatologist and a general practitioner. First-aid skills definitely come into play on ski patrol but aiding the injured actually plays a small role during a day on patrol.
"Our first priority is the safety of the mountain," Ediss said. "We make sure the mountain is in safe operating condition. We come out before the mountain opens and rope areas off and check for boulders and ruts left by the groomer. Then we're out almost as an ambulance service. Sometimes it's just somebody is scared and can't get down the mountain so you get them down the mountain."
Heavenly has a policy of a very visible patrol so patrollers get plenty of opportunity to ski rather than monitor conditions from a shack.
Carson patrollers Dave Beres and Greg Marenco savor the rewards of the last run down the mountain, after the crowds have retreated to apres-ski activities.
"There's nothing like skiing down for the sweep," said Beres, who owns the Beres Precession machine shop in Gardnerville along with patrolling Heavenly for 30 days each winters. "It's quiet. The chairs are off. The sun is setting. It's just beautiful. Then again, I've taken sweep runs where I can't even see you because it's skiing so hard."
"I enjoy the early morning set up and the end of the day sweep, where I'm on the mountain by myself," said Marenco, a machinist at Bently Nevada.
The Carson Ski Patrol has four skiers with more than 20 years service. Marenco has put in 14 years on the Heavenly slopes and Ediss and Beres each are starting their ninth seasons.
Service with Carson Ski Patrol requires a minimum of 10 days on patrol during ski season. Most patrollers log 20 to 30 days. It's definitely a way of life.
"This is my personal fun time in winter," Marenco said. "I work four 10s in winter. Two days I ski and one day I'm with the family."
Ediss flip-flops the concept of job and time off.
"My goal in coming to Northern Nevada was to ski and fly fish, and work on my days off," said Ediss, who patrols 20 to 25 days a year and skis for fun upward of 40 days a season.
The dry land refresher this weekend counted as training necessary to maintain National Ski Patrol credentials. All Carson Ski Patrol members are nationals and each has completed a 60-hour course in outdoor emergency care.
Anybody who wants to join Carson Ski Patrol may call John Ediss at 882-7085.