Crater Lake Ski Patrol crucial to park operations
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
February 21, 2002
By LEE JUILLERAT
CRATER LAKE — There’s a reason why members of the Crater Lake Ski Patrol wear red coats.
In times of need, or during routine cross country ski trips, those coats identify them as people who can give advice on weather forecasts, trail conditions or handle virtually any winter emergency.
“They’re the backbone of our operation,” says Mary King, the Crater Lake National Park backcountry ranger who oversees the volunteer ski patrol.
“They are an absolutely integral part of our program,” agrees ranger Dan Jacobs. “We just couldn’t do it without them. We have a small staff. The patrollers fill a huge gap.”
Ski patrol members plugged the gap in January, when avalanches left some around-the-rim skiers and a crew of rescuers trapped in the park’s backcountry. Randy Benham and other ski patrol members coordinated the successful search and rescue efforts.
Crater Lake Ski Patrol volunteers are rescuing the park’s small full-time staff for the 20th year.
Many of the 35 current members have been on the patrol for 10 or more years. Three are 20-year volunteers, including Niel Barrett of Klamath Falls and Dan Miller, then known as Dan Sullivan, who has since moved from Klamath Falls to Portland. Miller and Jack Bennett of Klamath Falls, who has since retired, are ski patrol founders who helped develop the always evolving program.
Along with Barrett, six other Klamath Basin skiers are currently patrol members, including Ann Michael, Mike McNamara, Tim Hennessey, Bill Bloom, Carolyn Vecchi and J.T. Hummel.
“One thing that keeps people coming here is the love of the park and the camaraderie of the ski patrol members,” says Hummel, who’s in his 13th year. “We don’t give handshakes here. It’s always hugs.”
He started after asking a patrol member how to join and being told to show up for the fall training session. Hummel did, and he kept on returning.
“It’s the attitude,” explains Hummel. “Once you get up here the first year you’re hungry for it. A part of me has always wanted to volunteer, to give something back to the community.”
Patrol members and candidates hold two annual mandatory training sessions — first aid training during the first weekend in November and snow training in December. Each patroller is required to volunteer at least three weekends between December and mid- to late-April, although some out-of-towners will lump their days into a full week stints during the Christmas holidays.
During a typical weekend there will be four to seven patrollers.
Standard functions greeting visitors, resetting trail markers or, after heavy storms, setting tracks on popular trails.
Whatever they do, members take pride in their work.
The benefits are not financial, but the park provides housing, outfits patrollers with those red jackets and powder pants, and provides easy access to skis and a variety of top-line equipment. More importantly, the park offers quality training sessions so that patrollers can learn or hone a variety of skills, from setting tree and snow anchors to belaying, digging avalanche pits, towing toboggans to advanced emergency medical care.
Members come from around the state, including Portland, Eugene, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Medford and Ashland.
Age isn’t a handicap. Len Ramp and Ken Hickenbottom, both of Grants Pass, are 75 and 68 years old. Ability levels vary widely. Some ski fast, some don’t. Newcomers often have little or no backcountry experience.
“It’s not necessary to have skills,” emphasizes King. “We’ll train them.”
“We want people with the right attitude and desire. We’re looking for candidates. This isn’t an exclusive club,” says Hummel.
“They kind of adopt you,” says Won Kin of Portland, who’s in his fourth year on the Crater Lake Ski Patrol after volunteering at Mount Hood. “There’s a lot more sharing of knowledge, more training opportunities. There’s something about Crater Lake that comes with a much different energy.”
Maybe it’s being at Crater Lake that provides that energy. Or maybe it’s the red jackets.