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Testing skiing skills and egos

Daily Staff Writer
NWS Patrol Test1 3-28 CS Vail Daily/Coreen Sapp Beaver Creek Ski Patrol foreman Steve Zuckerman explains the day's schedule to a group of skiers and riders before the ski patrol test Sunday morning.
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By Veronica Whitney

Daily staff writer

After two easy runs down Centennial and Red Tail on Beaver Creek Mountain, Darrell Silver waited his turn to do the next drill at the annual ski patrol test: Ski down Screech Owl, an expert run, with about 10 inches of new snow covering icy bumps.

“Darrell, go!” said Mike Campbell, one of the patrollers who gave the test.

Silver, 23, of Avon, plunged into the run, trying to find fresh powder and avoiding the deep ridges formed between the bumps after several skiers had gone down.

When the time came for Jeremy Smith to attack, he fell and was going to call it quits. But Smith, 53, of Beaver Creek, wasn’t the only one to take what one of the ski patrollers called a “mulligan.” Because of the tricky conditions in some spots – a mix of powder and ice – several skiers took a digger. But they got up and kept going with a laugh as soon as they hit fresh powder again.

“It’s getting a little tough for me,” Smith said after telling Campbell he was quitting.

The next drill got even tougher for Silver and the other 33 skiers and snowboarders taking the test. The next test was to ski the same bumps on lower Screech Owl, but this time without poles.

“We’re trying to see the skiers’ balance,” said ski patroller Kate McAtavey, as she wrote down scores. “We want them to ski strong and solid, not flashy and fast.”

Job search

It’s spring at Beaver Creek and time for those trying to get a job on the mountain – or boost their egos- to take the ski patroller’s test. This year the mountain offered two test dates: April 21 and 28.

The candidates, including a dozen telemarkers and four snowboarders, got tested in seven drills: medium-radius turns, short-radius turns, small bumps, slide slipping, steeps and crud, large bumps and bumps with no poles. The maximum score was five and to pass the test skiers had to get a minimum score of 3 in all drills.

“I’m doing it for fun. Maybe to get a job,” said hotel concierge Doug Schofield, 23 of Eagle-Vail. “I might consider applying for a job. It definitely beats sitting at a desk.”

Jen Savonen was happily surprised with the winter-like conditions the morning of the test. “The conditions are awesome compared to last week,” said Savonen, 23, of Edwards. After a week of daily sunny and 60-degree weather, it snowed about five inches the night before the April 28 test and it snowed most of the morning.

Savonen, who now works in guest services at Beaver Creek, was among the ones who are planning to apply for a job as a ski patroller. “I want to be a patroller because I’m interested in the medical field,” she said between drills. “Eventually, I’ll go to medical school.”

When Silver didn’t pass the ski patrol test at Beaver Creek on April 21, he decided to give it another try. “I got a lot off feedback,” said Silver, who works as a ticket scanner at the resort. “For me it’s interesting to see how I get rated. But I don’t think I want to work as a ski patroller.”

Dream lifestyle

For many, passing the ski patroller’s test is like surviving a war wound and getting a medal – landing a job as a ski patroller is nailing down a dreamed lifestyle.

Ski Patroller Ronnie Burnett, who has worked at Beaver Creek for five seasons, said he likes his job because he loves being outside and helping other people.

“It’s the office space,” McAtavey added. “It’s having your desk at 11,000 feet.”

To Travis Siemer, 34, of Avon, being a ski patroller is a way to give back to the sport.

“I got so much out of skiing in the past 30 years that now it’s time to give back,” he said after completing the test. Siemer said he rather be a ski patroller than a ski instructor because he has no patience to teach.

Some skiers even came from out of state to take the test.

“I’m interested in getting this job here in Beaver Creek,” said Matt McClure, who came from Boston to take the test. “You’re sort of on the spot, but it was fun.”

But passing the test is just the first step of a possible career on the mountain. Those interested in a ski patroller job need to fill out a separate application. For next year, Campbell said there are three positions open, although there could be more.

“The job will not necessarily go to the highest ranking in the test,” he said. “We look at a combination of skiing skills and other stuff such as if a person has first aid background and experience working on the mountain.”

By the way, Silver, Siemer, Savonen, Schofield and McClure passed the test.

“It was worth it,” Silver said with a smile after Campbell announced the names of those who had passed. “Even if I hadn’t passed.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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