We all know that ski patrollers are essential to a safe and functional ski area. First on the mountain and last to leave, ski patrollers make sure the terrain is safe before anyone can access the slopes. They also regularly take risks to save lives. Originally run entirely by volunteers, First Aid Ski Patrol in Whistler started with 12 people in 1965, before the lifts were even built. There were over 80 active volunteers at its peak. With the rapid growth of Whistler Mountain, professional ski patrollers were recruited and First Aid Ski Patrol volunteers continued to support the professional patrol until Blackcomb opened in 1980.
Tony Lyttle was head of the First Aid Ski Patrol from 1965 to 1971. According to Lyttle, “In 1965 when the mountain opened, we were all housed in trailers with the rest of the Whistler staff. As Whistler got more and more paid staff, there was less and less room for patrol. That’s when we were finally moved to the cafeteria floor, and it wasn’t very good as they started cooking around 3am or earlier. So that people never sleep.
Besides sleeping in the cafeteria, everything a patroller needed was self-funded, relying on donations, fundraising and the generosity of the patrollers themselves, including the construction of the patrol lodge. In 1972, a raffle was held to raise funds for portable two-way radios that revolutionized the practices of ski patrollers. Before that, they used the “bump system,” where patrollers alternated between skiing a trick and waiting at the top of a lift so someone could always be found in an emergency. It also meant waiting long periods in the elements and could be extremely cold in the days leading up to Gore-Tex.
In addition to the volunteer patrollers, there was a rotation of 10 doctors who could administer painkillers and help with diagnosis, suturing and dislocated shoulders. Flags were raised to call a doctor’s attention when additional medical support was needed. There was no medical center, only a small first aid room. Without ambulances, people mostly returned home injured or traveled to Squamish or Vancouver by private vehicle. There was a helicopter landing pad near the gravel parking lot, but only the most serious head or back injuries were airlifted by helicopter for further treatment.
Washouts and landslides regularly closed the road to Whistler. Lyttle recalls once loading dozens of injured skiers onto the train to Vancouver on Sunday night after the road was closed all weekend. “There were people loaded onto this train on every seat, on the floor, in the aisles, all their luggage was stacked in the lockers, and then we had two cargo-type cabins where we packed all the patients,” he said. -he declares.
“All the stretchers were on top of each other on supports. It was amazing and people were sick and we were trying to give hypodermic needles, painkillers in semi-darkness with flashlights. It was like a movie. Then when we got to Vancouver, all the ambulances in town were at the North Vancouver station with all these flashing red lights and police cars.
Recognized as one of the most skilled patrollers in North America despite being paid a penny, the volunteer First Aid Ski Patrol was responsible for risk management, trail marking, trail maintenance, evacuation of lifts, search for lost skiers and first aid, and they regularly had to help dig lifts after heavy snow. However, as many fondly remember, the parties were legendary and the powder never came down!