If you’re stuck on a cliff on Vail Mountain
VAIL, Colorado ” The scenario was this: A skier was hurt at the base of the Chair 4 cliffs on Vail Mountain.
Ski patrol had to get a toboggan there, but you can’t huck a toboggan off a cliff. So they do what is called, in ski patrol parlance, a “high-angle rescue.”
Skis are buried under the snow to act as anchors. Ropes are tied to the skis. A patroller is tied to the rope.
The patroller, in this drill, was John Evans. He was anchored to the rope, and he slowly sidestepped down the 20-foot, rocky cliffs with his skis as the rope supported him. He held in his hand a toboggan, which was supported by a separate rope.
Up above, two other patrollers ” Billy Mattison and Cory Miller ” gave the ropes slack as Evans picked his way down the precipice.
“We’re just going to keep moving you down,” Mattison said. “OK, John?”
“Yeah,” Evans said, asking for more slack.
“The whole thing is about communication,” Mattison said.
Above them, foursome after foursome passed in the air. The busy Chair 4 runs directly above the cliffs.
“Can you go off this today?” a snowboarder asked.
Some figured out it was a drill.
“They’re practicing safety today,” a skier said.
Others weren’t sure.
“Are you guys practicing?” a woman said, relieved to find out they were.
The visibility is a key part of holding the drill, which coincides with National Safety Week at Vail. It’s also a good chance to train rookies such as Evans, said Mattison, an 18-year patrol veteran.
About a half-dozen times a year, ski patrollers have to use ropes for rescues, whether it’s lowering a patroller down to an injured person or lowering a toboggan out of a steep area.
Prima Cornice, the double-black diamond run, is one of the most likely places for a rope rescue.
“I had a woman once on Prima Cornice who broke her pelvis,” Mattison said. “She was on an icy, steep slope. There was no way we could ski her out of there.”
So patrol lowered her hundreds of feet in a toboggan with the aid of the ropes.
They also used ropes during the evacuation after one of the East Vail Chutes slides this year, Mattison said.
Another rope evacuation this year was in the Narrows after a skier broke his femur, he said.
Evans makes it down to the bottom of the cliffs. It wasn’t too hard, he said.
“You just trust your co-worker and trust the rope,” he said.
It’s good training for the patrollers, Mattison said.
“One, it’s fun to do,” he said. “Two, they learn something totally different.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.