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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Spotlight on Dartmouth Ski Patrol: Winters at the ’Way

One writer investigates the culture and commitment of the student patrollers keeping the Dartmouth Skiway safe.

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Formed more than sixty years ago by the College, the Dartmouth Ski Patrol is a community organization for students interested in ensuring the safety of those on the Dartmouth Skiway. Every winter, these students, who are trained in various forms of emergency medicine, each patrol the mountain for about 10 hours a week, according to patroller Kiki Levy ’24. For many Dartmouth students, joining Ski Patrol (SkiPa) is the natural next step of years spent skiing at home. 

Sam Frohlich ’25, who grew up skiing on the West Coast, saw Ski Patrol as the perfect opportunity to integrate skiing into his life at Dartmouth — and to explore new interests. 

“I had been considering going into medicine, and I thought [Ski Patrol] could be a cool way to see if emergency medicine would pique my interest,” Frohlich said. “It started out as interest, but I very quickly got invested in joining patrol.” 

In fact, Renesa Khanna ’24, Ski Patrol’s training officer for the upcoming year, said she came to Dartmouth specifically for SkiPa after she patrolled at Winter Park Resort in her home of Colorado. Khanna expressed that while the exclusive nature of skiing makes it “hard to get more diversity in a ski patrol club,” the overall atmosphere of the group is very welcoming. 

“People love to be outside doing things, and it’s easy to get a group to rally and organize,” Khanna added.

However, not all of the Dartmouth ski patrollers spent their childhoods on the mountain. Meghan O’Keefe ’24, the incoming student director of SkiPa, was initially nervous about joining because she thought she lacked the proper experience.

“I skied growing up but never raced. We didn’t go that often — it was very expensive, so I was definitely apprehensive about being good enough. I really took a leap by trying out,” she said.

Jacob Schnell ’26, one of Ski Patrol’s newest members, echoed this sentiment.

“Growing up [in Atlanta], I couldn’t ski very much. Being able to do it for at least two shifts a week has forced me to go to the Skiway more,” Schnell said. 

Even with years of skiing experience, the process of becoming a patroller is no bunny hill. According to O’Keefe, the recruitment process begins the first week of fall term, freshman year.

“[Candidates] show up for interviews based on skiing equipment knowledge, skiing ability and a general interview. Thirty people from these initial applications will take a medical class to get their [Outdoor Emergency Care] certification,” O’Keefe said.

During their freshman fall, candidates take the OEC class, which allows them to become certified to patrol on any mountain in the U.S. Taking 120 hours to complete, the course prepares patrollers to care for patients out in the wilderness, with a mix of self-study and hands-on practical work. 

“It was one of the more intense terms I’ve had at Dartmouth,” Frohlich said. “The medical training is pretty much like another class, with four hours a week and homework for each class. The defining part of my freshman fall was grinding so that I could make patrol.” 

After the arduous OEC class, potential patrollers take a final exam, after which only about fifteen are selected for a ski test at the start of winter term. Even then, those that make it through all of these obstacles still aren’t full patrollers — they only earn the title of “apprenti.” On their first year on patrol, apprenti do not respond directly to calls themselves, rather they learn by helping out on the mountain. Before their sophomore winter, they return early to the Skiway to get “vested” and become full patrollers.

After the “vest test” – a final demonstration of skills learned during their apprentice year – the fledgling patrollers get to don Ski Patrol’s signature red jackets. 

“It’s a very long process, so everyone that goes through it is an absolute trooper,” O’Keefe said. 

Levy commented on how different the process was for the patrollers in the Class of 2024, adding that it was no less difficult. 

“There was no way for there to be a fair process because so many people were off-campus, so it had to be remote,” Levy said. “We had a more extensive interview process, and they actually admitted students first and had us complete OEC afterwards.”

During the winter season, the patrollers spend plenty of time together — according to Levy, each patroller is on duty “at least ten hours a week” — and they find ways to make it fun.

“We have a lot of silly day-to-day things to pass the time, like the Sunday morning shift makes a charcuterie board every time,” O’Keefe said. “Starting new traditions has been really fun too — we use our feed money from the DOC to [organize] a formal where we all wear something nice to eat pizza.”

Despite its size of roughly sixty people, “it does feel tight-knit and cohesive” according to Frohlich, the incoming administrative officer of SkiPa.  

“It feels like one big group — when we have social gatherings, there’s a lot of turnout and people really buy into it,” Frohlich added. 

Schnell said that as a freshman, it’s exciting to have access to a community of outgoing people. 

“I feel welcome in most spaces, just because I likely know someone from patrol there,” he said. “Even in the fall, walking around and knowing some older people was a nice feeling, being a newer person on campus.” 

It also doesn’t hurt to have a community of outdoorsy people eager for other adventures. Several of the patrollers recounted a recent excursion to Tuckerman’s Ravine — “one person’s idea that snowballed into a thirty-person trip,” according to Levy. 

According to O’Keefe, the patrollers are also in tune with the Upper Valley, working with local patrollers that volunteer at the Skiway.

“It’s a really good way for everyone to connect with the community where we live and get out of the Dartmouth bubble,” O’Keefe said. An annual banquet, held last weekend, even gave the senior patrollers “a chance to thank and say goodbye to the community volunteers.” 

“I love the community banquet,” Levy said. “At Dartmouth, you can get caught up in everything centering around students, so one of my favorite things about patrol is getting experience outside of that and putting energy into friendships with people outside of Dartmouth’s campus.” 

Whether on the slopes or on the Green, Ski Patrol provides a tight-knit community for its members — many expressed how glad they were to have been exposed to such a fun group of people with similar interests.

“I just like being around other people that like to ski,” Schnell said. ”It’s a community of people who like doing that in their spare time and are down to go to other mountains too.”