We asked Hotham Ski Patrol Director Bill Barker what big seasons like 2017 mean for them, and for you to stay safe out there. As the season kicks in it’s also a timely reminder to thank all our patrol staff, pro and volunteer, who do such a great job of keeping us all safe each winter.
I think I have spent 30 winters at Hotham, and 2017 definitely turned into one of the best of them. It was reminiscent of the good ones during the early 90’s (that were also late to kick into gear), except now we have snowmaking to get us through the lean times.
There was no natural snow on the ground to speak of until the first big event arrived in late July, yet we were will still getting really good quality groomers during the early season, and then it really turned on!
Low snow periods obviously produces management issues for the ski patrol but really big snow events also create another set of unique challenges.
Approximately 4 metres of snow fell during the peak of the season, so we were kept on our toes while we tried to keep on top of it. Nets and fence lines got buried, boundary ropes and signs iced up or disappeared, snowmobiles got bogged, cornices and windlips formed overnight, and there was an extended period of significant avalanche hazard.
The patrol were kept very busy doing big days of digging, de-icing, raising ropes and marking new hazards, and there were many mornings of getting out there at first light to mitigate the avalanche hazard. Big snow events definitely means bigger days and much more manual labour for the ski patrol, but we will take it any time over the low snow challenges.
Fortunately big cold dry storms usually means deep soft snow to fall in, so our significant trauma rates are a little reduced. However it also means people are often going harder so we still get our share of serious accidents to respond to.
A couple of tips to help keep you safe during big snow events so you are able to enjoy all the storms.
• Don’t get too excited and go too hard until there is a good base underneath.
• Keep an eye out for windlips and cornices that were not there the day before.
• Wear good low light goggles on the storm days.
• Ride with a friend if you’re venturing off the trails.
• Take avalanche risk seriously (be very cautious on the first sunny day after a big snow event).
• Get your layering right. Be warm but try not to sweat (especially if you’re hiking for your turns).
• Take regular rest and refuelling breaks.
• Look out for others.
And remember to always offer that old hairy ski patroller first go at that great untracked line in front of you!
When he’s not patrolling at Hotham or surfing Bill runs the legendary Bills Ski Trips to Kashmir and Antarctica. Book early as they fill up.