Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

Mountain Man

By Richard Hunter DC   

Features Leadership Profession

Patrolling the ski slopes that overlook Vancouver.

36First aid and outdoor rescue skills for ski patrollers developed out of necessity when people began venturing onto the mountains for fitness and recreation. Winter downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tube sliding, as well as back-country touring, hiking and mountain biking in summer are all exciting activities that carry inherent risks.

Add individual variables of age, health status, and fitness and skills level to the mountainous terrain, potential harsh weather and difficult snow conditions, and you have an environment that invites injury.
Fortunately, ski mishaps are not huge in number, with an average of about 3.2 injuries per 1,000 skiers. The injury rate for snowboarders is double that, with a higher incidence of severe spinal injury and death. Skiing ranks eighth in frequency of emergency room visits resulting from sport and recreation. Skiers’ head and neck trauma, most frequently incurred by those under the age of 17, typically follows collisions with stationary objects or other skiers. However, fractures and sprains are the most common types of injury.


Since 1999, I have been working with the First Aid Ski Patrol (FASP) on the “local hills” overlooking the city of Vancouver. A love of skiing coupled with an interest in improving first aid skills directed me to this volunteer organization. FASP, one of the oldest patrol organizations in British Columbia, was incorporated in 1945 and has patrolled such mountains as Whistler, Cypress, Grouse, Seymour and Kimberly. With expansion, many hills created their own private ski patrols or enlisted the services of the Canadian Ski Patrol Society. FASP, however, has remained on Grouse Mountain and the Cypress nordic skiing areas.

As the current FASP patrol supervisor on 1,231-metre Grouse Mountain, I manage close to 100 patrollers. We have several teams including our medical doctor patrol, mid-week patrol (mainly B.C. ambulance attendants), junior patrol, and, the largest group, our weekend patrol. Collectively, we are responsible for all safety preparations in opening the mountain, responding to any first aid calls anywhere on the hill including the chalet restaurants and bars, skating rink, and terrain parks. Lastly, we must close the hill before heading home ourselves. Grouse Mountain management has also asked us to patrol during special events such as the World Cup Mountain Bike Races, the Grouse Grind Run, the Seek the Peak Relay, snowshoe races, terrain park events and even summer music festivals.

Patrolling on Grouse Mountain is a unique experience, as the only way up to the ski area is by the gondola, which means it’s also the only way down when transporting patients off the hill.

When first on the scene of an accident, the patroller must quickly but efficiently assess the situation, call for special equipment/transport/assistance (if needed), provide life-saving interventions and first aid, stabilize the injury, package the patient for transport, reassess, monitor and hand off properly to ambulance personnel (if necessary). Completion of the paperwork that details an incident is the final important step.

Many times on the mountainside, I have recommended to injured skiers that they should seek chiropractic care. Additionally, fellow patrollers and other mountain staff frequently consult for chiropractic advice and treatment.

Ski patrol training has led me to volunteer over the past two years for national alpine events on Whistler, with an eye toward working in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. In addition to providing a perfect means for improving one’s emergency first aid skills, ski patrol is also a fun and rewarding way to get up the mountain to ski on a regular basis.•

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