Ski Patrolling through fifty years at Whiteface Mountain

WILMINGTON Ski patrolling is difficult and challenging work. While it may seem glamorous and fun, and perhaps sometimes it is, it can also be dangerous, exhausting and trying. All major ski centers have a patrol that is usually professional, while the smaller areas often rely on volunteer members of the National Ski Patrol. Some areas like Whiteface use a combination of paid and volunteer patrollers. These men and women, whether paid or not, are expected to monitor overall safety, provide first aid, transport injured people, shuffle equipment around, assess conditions, advise the public, control traffic and much more. Most of these dedicated people are there because of their love of the sport and their love of the mountains, generally not for fortune and fame. The Hoyt family is fully immersed in the lifestyle of ski patrolling. I had the pleasure of spending some time with them recently near mid station on a busy Saturday. They immediately made me feel comfortable with their pleasant and friendly manner. Jim Hoyt, Sr. has been a patroller since January of 1958, the first official season at Whiteface and his wife Anna Kucharska has been on the patrol for over 12 years. Jim Hoyt, Jr., known to many as J.R. has been a patroller since 1980 and is currently the Director of the ski patrol. His wife Virgie, a nurse by trade, has been a patroller for 15 seasons. It was the mountain that brought both of these couples together and they continue to share a passion for it as well as an obvious affection for each other. A friendly, jovial group, they enjoy ribbing each other and laughing out loud. Its not all fun and games though. Jim Sr. got clobbered on the slopes a couple of years ago by a racer in training who soared over a blind spot, cutting him down and leaving him in critical condition. He suffered severe injuries, including permanent damage to one of his eyes. It obviously didnt stop him for too long though, as he approaches fifty impressive years of patrolling at Whiteface. Jim Jr. related a story of a skier dieing in his arms very early in his career as a ski patroller. It was obvious, as he told the story, that this experience was extremely difficult and emotional. Anna and Virgie have also seen their fair share of tragedy on the mountain during their many years on the job. Yet it is quite clear that all four of them love what they are doing. In addition to the four members of the Hoyt family who currently patrol Whiteface, three other brothers were there formerly. Anna joked about how the patrol was short handed one day with only eight members present on the mountain. She laughed when she related that five of the eight were Hoyts. It certainly is impressive to imagine that a Hoyt has been patrolling Whiteface as long as skiers have been sliding down its steep and majestic slopes. Tony Searing has been a volunteer patroller at Whiteface for many years. He loves people and he loves skiing, so patrolling is a winning combination for him and he truly enjoys it. Keeping his certifications up to date and meeting his volunteer obligation is a labor of love for him. A Plattsburgh resident and engineer by trade, Tonys love for skiing is evident amidst his friendly, kind and optimistic personality. Obtaining and maintaining the necessary certifications is rigorous and time consuming. In addition to intensive medical and first aid training, patrollers also train on the mountain with toboggans and other tools of the trade. They are also required to prove their skiing ability in challenging conditions and on difficult terrain. The roster of the Whiteface patrol this year includes a team of seventy-six dedicated men and women. Some are paid professionals and some are volunteers who have regular careers as doctors, attorneys and various other professions. Some are retirees whose love of skiing has drawn them back to work, without the paycheck of course. Whiteface Mountain is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and they have planned a series of events to commemorate it. Throughout the many changes that it has seen over those years, all of which have been good, the Ski Patrol has been there to serve and protect skiers and snowboarders from base to summit. John Bernardi is an avid lifelong skier and a regular contributor to Denton Publications.

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