written by: Tony Gill
The times they are a changin’. For more than 50 years, Park City’s Ski Patrol has been supplemented with National Ski Patrol volunteers who staffed the mountain on weekends and holidays, assisting their full-time counterparts. But last fall, Vail Resorts ended the program and filled the volunteer positions with full-time, paid staff.
For patrollers like Michael Cook, director of the volunteer ski patrol at Park City’s Canyons base area, the abrupt end of their partnership came as a bit of a shock. “We asked where this decision came from, and we were told, ‘This was a business decision made by multiple levels of management.’ No further explanation was offered,” Cook says.
Vail’s response to Salt Lake magazine was guarded. Vail spokeswoman Jessica Miller wrote, “As Park City Mountain has grown significantly over the past few years, and in order to deliver our vision for the guest experience, we have decided to staff and further develop our patrol program using only employees and eliminating the NSP volunteer patrol program. We value the contributions the NSP volunteer patrollers have made to our company and hope they will consider applying for a full-time, five-day a week position.”
But Cook says the reality is different: “Park City has set a prerequisite for the Ski Patrol to have a minimum of three years full-time experience. Therefore, no volunteers—that I am aware of—were accepted for even part-time paid positions. I do know that several applied.”
The ski industry’s 800-pound-gorilla has never been renowned for transparency, so we spoke with full-time patrollers—on condition of anonymity—to gather some insight into the volunteer program. “A lot of the volunteers were great, but it was this weird program where we would just turn over the keys to the whole ski patrol for Saturday and Sunday,” says one veteran patroller. “A handful of full-time patrollers work with volunteers each day, and we spend a considerable amount of time supervising them.”
“No matter how hard they work, a volunteer working one day won’t be up to par with people who are there every day,” says another experienced patroller. He suggested the program would have ended earlier if previous ownership had the resources Vail does.
The general sentiment among the patrollers we interviewed supported the ongoing effort to improve the guest experience, and was also generally complimentary of Vail’s management from an employee perspective. “People want that Disney Vacation on the mountain, and a more professional staff is part of people getting their money’s worth,” a patroller says.
Cook says that, while it appears volunteers need not apply, Vail “was helpful by allowing us to use resort equipment and a venue to conduct a medical refresher that I organized so the volunteers could stay current with their medical certifications. Approximately 10 to 15 patrollers have obtained positions at other resorts. Most of the volunteer patrol is taking the year off, but hope to patrol at other resorts next year.”