Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chair Jumping

In this past month, the Devil's Head resort in Wisconsin had a complete chair lift malfunction. In this case it sounds like the lift stopped all forward motion, did not lock into place, and began to pick up speed during a rollback down the hill (WKOW TV's coverage).

Reading through a lot of internet posts regarding this, I see many mentioning they would jump off the lift no problem. Aside from the heights many chairs run to, there are many secondary factors to consider (beyond it being illegal in most states). But the talk reminds me of an afternoon several years ago....

We have a low speed double chair that provides service on one side of the hill. At several points on the route up, the chair can sag and reach heights around 9 or 10 feet above the ground vs it's usual 15 to 20 feet. On this particular day, two men got onto a chair not knowing each other. At some point, Man-A, a 230 lb 6'3" male, decided to disembark from the chair early into a stash of powder he had been hunting for awhile.

Man-B, a 5'10" 200 lb male, was apparently not made aware of the impending maneuver and sat watching the rest of the hill enjoy itself. With Man-A leaving the chair, the sudden weight change launched the chair with Man-B into the air several feet, adding a swing to the chair. Man-B rediscovered some basic laws of physics where his body continued it's projection off the chair, clearing the chair, and providing him with enough space to come back down to earth.

Man-A upon landing was fine and instantly looking for any gear he might have lost. Man-B proceeded to land on top of Man-A, breaking a hip on Man-B and a neck for Man-A.

Other chairs behind and in front also received the chair bounce, causing several other guests to lose their seats and hold on until patrol could rescue them (which was surprisingly fast).

All said and done, Man-A was charged for breaking the law by jumping off the chair, and a few other things (attempted homicide keeps popping to my mind but that doesn't sound right). He was also charged in civil suits afterward for reckless endangerment (of both minors and adults) and for Man-B to recover lost wages.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009/2010 First Accidents

For over a decade I've maintained a Red Cross CPR certification with the idea that you never know when you'd need it. I've never had a need for it and have been thankful for that. The 2009/2010 winter season marks the first time I've ever had to use my CPR skills on anything other than a certification dummy in what could be considered a rare mix of bad.

Most resorts get an ambulance that resides on site. If not directly on site it lives within 5-10 minutes drive (in bad weather) to the resort. Some resorts even go one step further by contracting with a hospital to put a local urgent care facility on site. In any case, there is emergency personal ready to respond immediately.

Just the past week we had weather that created very odd road conditions. A mix of snow and rain fell for several hours before the freezing level dropped. This left the roads in a bad state with the better known "black ice" issue, basically the rain froze as a thin layer over the road. A two car accident happened immediately outside of the resorts' entryway. Our emergency personal responded and were dealing with the accident. During this time the fog that had been sitting in our upper mountain section moved lower and now covered the entire base area.

The next part seems to be conflicting to me, and my understanding is only built by the fragments of memories from those there. Basically I gathered another vehicle (possibly two) lost control and slammed into the accident scene, and continued down the mountain running into other vehicles waiting to pass. What seems weird is the first step to emergency roadside stuff like this is to secure the area so that you cannot be involved in another accident. My best guess is the car(s?) ignored the line of stopped cars and came down the oncoming traffic lane only to realize why everyone was stopped and discovered they couldn't themselves stop. Or they had to come from some other location down the mountain (off-roading in the snow?) that was not expected.

When the call for any one with emergency first aid training came across the radio I had been enjoying a beer at the mid-mountain stop with a student of mine (who happened to also be there). Running out the door, I made it down the main run pretty quickly, only to realize I hadn't paid for my beer (later on the staff said that my student paid for it, so thanks Ron if you ever see this). The fog was really thick causing me to be oddly disoriented in a place I know very well, but the emergency lights glow and noise were enough to help direct me. Arriving on the scene I was immediately put into place doing a rotation of CPR on a victim.

Watching the Patrol member do the steps I knew, I had enough time to realize that I'd never practiced on or used my CPR anywhere but on the classroom dummy. When my turn to rotate in arrived, I found myself hesitant for what felt like minutes (which apparently were only seconds). Placing my hands in for the chest compression portion, the feeling of someone's chest was noticably different than a test dummy. To begin with, skin moves and the breast bone cracks (or cracked), while a dummy is... quiet. We rotated out every 2 minutes hoping to keep our energy up. I rotated in 3 times before the patient revived and the EMT took over checking vitals from the Patrol member.

Total damage, 9 cars destroyed, several more damaged, 2 broken legs, several cases of whiplash, a few broken arms, 1 heart attack, and a lot of smoke inhalation (flare smoke hung in the air with the fog).

Drive safe out there. It's not worth rushing home at the end of the day, really.

Monday, December 7, 2009

First Thefts

Nothing says welcome back to the winter season like having your gear stolen. Several days ago one of our instructors had his snowboard stolen mid-lesson. Apparently he took his board off to work with a student on the road accessible rope tow. While working with the kid, someone grabbed his board and took off with it.

Not only did this screw the students over as their lesson was now... over. But the instructor is out a board right before what is typically the busiest time of the season. Just a reminder to everyone to keep an eye on your gear, and use the Ski Check when possible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why does that...

One of the interesting things about working at a resort is the knowledge people can gain over time working there or really in the snowsport industry as a whole.

Take for example a recent conversation I had with a DCL ( while having my own skiing picked apart (he claimed it wasn't personal, but I disagree). Standing in line at the lift, we watched several people step out of the rental shop, throw their skis down, and ride off. This illicited a comment akin to "Oh those folks are going to have an awful time in just a few minutes" from the DCL.

He explained to me that this is what causes the giant ice build up on the bottom of skis. Stating that the warm ski from the rental shop (or car) lays on the snow, melts the snow, and then steadily loses heat allowing a refreeze on the base.

In theory this makes sense to me, as every object moving from one temperature to another will retain some bit of the former climate until the object and the ambient temperature reach some agreed upon middle ground. This can be seen easily by dropping a piece of ice in warm water.

What I've always believed to be the cause of ice build up on skis to be has been simply a case of ski care. I've never seen a case of ice on a pair of skis that have been properly waxed. While every ski I've seen with ice, it was clear from the white base that there was a lack of wax currently on the ski.

In an effort to help solve this issue, I've been working on setting up an experiment with two sets of skis. The rental shop manager thought this sounded like fun so he's on the lookout for a ski to fit my request. Basically two sets of skis, one needing wax, and one freshly waxed. Both will be brought out of the rental shop, dropped on the snow, and given a 1 minute resting period on the snow. In theory both should develop ice proving the DCL's opinion. If only one develops ice, we will need to push the experiment further.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Return of the Season 09-10

The snow is back and in force. Several wonderful days of skiing these past weeks have left me very happy the season is back earlier than usual. With it come more regular updates to this blog for the handful of people reading it.

Biggest changes this season from last...
  • Co-operation between resorts for the instructing staff to co-train*. The local PSIA representative has been successful in convincing the resorts to allow cross training between the resorts. This means I will be attending the Certification sessions and classes over at our neighboring larger corporate (aka Corpy) resort that happen on a 3xweek basis in the hopes of finally passing the on-snow portion of my exam. Judging from the first day of review and being on snow, I've got a lot of work to do.
  • The loss of many coworkers. I somehow was kept out of the controversy over the summer, but it seems several of our more senior instructors have all left the resort and moved on to Corpy's staff. It was quite a shock to see my former co-workers arrive at the Certification training sessions decked out in Corpy's gear.
My big issue this year has now been moved to do I stay at the smaller resort or do I move on to Corpy? Both have advantages and disadvantages. The main draw for Corpy is the heavy recruiting their senior staff is making on me. They've pointed out how they are setup to help instructors move through the ranks of the PSIA with regularly scheduled on and off snow training and review. They've also got several features setup a little better like a true ski school location for their staff to store gear and meet (not that I mind having our morning meetings in the bar). They've also been pushing that the minimum age for students is 6 unlike my current school's minimum age of 4 (from 4-6 Corpy has ACE certified instructors and schools to handle the students). The pay is a little better as well, although that gets lost when you realize the cost of items at Corpy is about 10x greater ($3.25 for a 12 oz Coke? WTF?). My guess is these were all things that helped convince my former coworkers to move over.

For me, the big seller is the regularly scheduled training bits. Oh, their complete lack of a rope tow (how my knees and gloves hate thee), and a very nice beginner hill area are also big draws for me. But it's hard to give up being with people you enjoy working with too. Since I'm not signed up for either school yet, I've got a week to think about this.

* To be clear, the ski schools have never had an issue sharing time or knowledge, it's always been a challenge with getting the resorts themselves to allow the other instructor's letters for a pass.