Olympic Ski Patrol

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Jim Meloche (at left in back row, fur hat) with other candidates for the 1988 Olympic Nordic Ski Patrol.

Jim Meloche competed for and gained a position on the 1988 Olympic Ski Patrol. He trained in Alberta in February of 1987, and was the last of only six American Nordic Patrollers chosen to serve with this special group. At the same time, he was being considered for the staff of the Olympic Press Centre at Canmore. Faced with the choice of serving on the Patrol or as Work Area Chief at the Press Centre, he chose the latter so another Patroller would have a chance to be on the Olympic Patrol.
Almost fifty candidates, both American and Canadian, spent a week training at Canmore in Winter of 1987, hoping to "make the cut" for a birth on the Olympic Nordic Ski Patrol. Of the fifteen Americans who competed, only six were selected to serve.

 

Olympian Effort, NSP, Canadian Ski Patrollers Team Up In Calgary

Rebecca W. Ayers, Ski Patrol Magazine, Spring 1988

Adapted For This Site By Jim Meloche

In February, National Ski Patrol member George Stean packed up his ski equipment and enough winter clothing to outfit a polar expedition, locked the door to his automotive repair business in Great Falls, Montana, and pointed his car toward Calgary.

Stean, a patroller with the Great Falls Ski Patrol at Showdown Ski Area in Montana, was among a handful of NSP members who worked alongside Canadian ski patrollers to provide first aid and rescue services to thousands of athletes, coaches and officials at the 1988 XV Winter Olympics.

Back in Montana several months after the Winter Games have ended and 315 miles away from Calgary, Stean describes his experience as an Olympics alpine patroller as a tremendous undertaking in terms of time and expense, but one that he will never forget. "It was an exhausting job and an awful lot of pressure, but being part of it was a once-in-alifetime experience. "

Of the 200 patrollers selected for the Olympics patrol, 17 were National Ski Patrol members, all of whom made personal and financial sacrifices to be a part of the Olympics experience. Although being an Olympics patroller may sound somewhat glamorous, the job required long hours and hard work. For most of February, these patrollers were away from their jobs and were separated from their families and friends. They provided their own transportation to Calgary and back, paid for housing and most meals, logged quite a few hours in training and evaluation sessions, and spent some long, cold days outside patrolling Olympics events.

Despite the demands of Olympics patrolling, approximately 50 NSP members sent applications to Rob Shugg, ski patrol coordinator for the Winter Games and supervisor of the evaluation and selection process of the Canadian and American ski patrollers. Shugg says he received about 700 applications from Canadian patrollers and probably would have received as many from NSP members had he extended a public invitation to American patrollers.

"We felt we couldn't put out an invitation to the entire membership of the NSP or we'd get blown away with applications," Shugg says. "We relied on word of mouth to let NSP members know we were recruiting patrollers for the Olympics. That, the fact that the patroller had to pay his or her own expenses, and the fact that the training sessions had already started when some of the NSP members heard about it created a natural attrition process."

NSP or CSPS active patroller status fulfilled the minimum requirement to serve on the Olympics patrol. Candidates also were required to attend mandatory training and evaluation sessions where they were judged on first aid skills, patrolling experience and ability to work as part of a team. And finally, patrollers were required to obtain first aid instructor certification before the Winter Games began.

Patrollers selected for Olympics duty were assigned to one of five venues: alpine, nordic, ski jumping, bobsleigh/luge and freestyle/disabled. Whenever possible, training sessions were held concurrent with World Cup events so patrol candidates for all venues could practice their patrolling skills during actual competitions and learn the idiosyncrasies of their venue, how to provide first aid at the site, and how to provide evacuation from that site. Training programs had several similarities but also were specific to each venue, Shugg says. "We decided not to have crossover patrollers because we felt there was no reason to put people through training on more than one venue. We wanted them to be totally dedicated to each venue."

Planning for the Olympics patrol began as early as May 1985 when officials held an organizational session at Calgary. Training sessions started in February 1986, when alpine patrol candidates were evaluated on skiing ability and attended ski clinics. At Nakiska on Mount Allan, site of the alpine venue, patrollers practiced one-man toboggan handling (the preference of the Canadian Ski Patrol), chairlift evacuation, and helicopter loading from the ground and from a sling. The patrollers attended a second round of mandatory evaluation and training in February 1987 at Lake Louise. Ski jumping, freestyle/disabled and bobsleigh/luge facilities were at Canada Olympic Park while the nordic venue was based at Canmore. During the fall of 1986 through the winter of 1987, patrol candidates for these venues also attended week-long mandatory training sessions.

Shugg says he tried to find a place for every NSP member who met the Olympics patrol requirements. "It impressed us that these people were so dedicated to patrolling that they had come all the way to Calgary, so we made an effort to find a place for them. All of the patrollers had different strengths and areas of expertise they were able to contribute to their respective venues, so it worked out very well. The Olympics officials and even the spectators were very impressed with our ski patrollers in general."

Participating in the Olympics patrol gave patrollers with different nationalities, careers and interests the opportunity to work together. "This was a situation where a regular patroller could work with a national vice president," Shugg says. "This experience proved that whether we are from Toronto or Tennessee, we're all the same kind of people who care about the same kinds of things. The intent was to create a homogenous group of patrollers - a melting pot of people who did an excellentjob and exchanged ideas and learned from each other in the process. For example, ski jumping is a new thing to Calgary, so we leaned heavily on the Lake Placid alumni and our own people from Thunder Bay (a major jump facility in Ontario) to make sure that we set things up right."

One of the Lake Placid jump patrollers who helped things run smoothly at Calgary was John Brower, a member of the White Birches and Cortina ski patrols in New York.

A veteran patroller of several World Cup ski jump events, Brower says that at Calgary he and the other Lake Placid alumni demonstrated many of the patrolling procedures they used at the Lake Placid ski jumping venue, including how jump patrol teams should be set up, which areas of the hill patrollers should cover, and how they should handle any accidents. Fortunately, there were no major injuries during the ski jump venue at Calgary. "Very few athletes are injured during Olympics ski jumping events because generally the athletes of that caliber know what they are doing and are very good at it," he says. "The thing I most enjoyed at Calgary was meeting other patrollers," Brower adds. "Ski patrollers are a pretty dedicated lot-you'd have to be to stand out in the cold all that time."

George Stean says that as an alpine venue patr oller his exposure to the give-and-take atmosphere between Canadians and Americans helped imove his skiing technique. "The Canadian patrollers from Lake Louise and the Calgary zone are some of the best skiers I've seen, and they taught us Americans a lot, technically, about skiing. On the other hand, we taught them some things about tail roping, so there was a substantial exchange of techniques and ideas."

Ed Gassman, a member of the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Patrol in Tennessee who patrolled the nordic venue. enjoyed meeting the different patrollers and athletes at Calgary.

"Sometimes we just stood around, but that gave us an opportunity to talk to a lot of interesting people," he says. "I've been a member of the NSP for 19 years, and I've met a lot of interesting ski patrollers, but when you're exposed to that kind of a cultural mix, you're bound to learn something new."

Gassman says he was impressed with the friendliness of the people at Calgary. "The Canadians went out of their way to make us feel welcome. It was a very positive and educational experience."

Kotaro "Jim" Hori, Asia liaison for NSP, also describes his experience as a member of the Olympics bobsleigh/luge patrol as educational. Hori, a 26-year NSP member and an advisor to the CSPS, knew nothing about bobsleigh/luge before the Olympics, but his training and hands-on experience at Calgary have converted him into an experienced bobsleigh/luge patroller. Hori says he considers bobsleigh/luge one of the most hazardous Olympic sports, particularly after witnessing the Jamaican team's close call with disaster when the team flipped over its bobsleigh while barreling down the course. Although no one was seriously injured, Hori says the incident could easily have been a catastrophe.

"The Canadian ski patrollers were very hospitable and helpful to all of the NSP members," he says. "It was, a very diplomatic gesture of the CSPS to invite us to Calgary, and I am grateful to them for allowing us to participate."

All of the NSP members interviewed say they'd like to participate in the next Winter Olympics, however, all seem relieved that they would not have to worry about it for a few more years. Along with their recollections of long days, hard work, cold feet, and out-of-pocket expenses, Calgary Olympics patrollers also carried home good memories and new stories to unfold back at their local patrol headquarters. Most significantly, they left Calgary having formed solid friendships with their Canadian counterparts. "The rapport among ski patrollers is a universal thing, and if we can get rid of all the politics we've got one hell of a capable and enthusiastic group of people," Shugg said. "Helping others - that is what is typical of a ski patroller, Canadian or American. "

NSP Members/1988 Calgary Olympics Ski Patrollers

Alpine Venue

Mike Husar, Sunburst Ski Patrol, Wisconsin
Michael Konopczynski, Sierra Summit Ski Patrol, California
Bill Lay, Great Falls Ski Patrol, Montana
Allan Rabbitt, Showdown Ski Patrol, Montana
Dale Sivumaki, Great Falls Ski Patrol, Montana
George Stean, Great Falls Ski Patrol, Montana

Bobsleigh/Luge Venue

Jim Hori, U.S. Ski Patrol - Asia, U.S. Administrative Ski Patrol

Jump Venue

John Birchfield, Alpine Valley Ski Patrol, Ohio
John Brower, White Birches Ski Patrol, New York
Gordon Griffin, Brandywine @ki Patrol, Ohio
Stan King, Great Falls Ski Patrol, Montana

Nordic Venue

Alfred Down, Buffalo Mountain Ski Patrol, Illinois
Edward Gassman, Ober Gatlinburg Ski Patrol, Tennessee
Eric Geisler, Viking Nordic Ski Patrol, Minnesota
David Hodgdon, Friends of Blue Hills Ski Patrol, Maine
Lynn Pace, Ober Gatlinburg Ski Patrol, Tennessee
Bill Tevogt, Viking Nordic Ski Patrol, Minnesota

 

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