Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Failed Ski Lift Rescue

One of the many jobs that ski patrollers are responsible for is ski lift evacuation. In other words, when the ski lift stalls, they lower people off the lift to the ground. This is generally a relatively simple task that any climber with baseline skills would be able to accomplish. Unfortunately for a snowboarder at (ski area name redacted), the ski patrol there aren't very dialed into basic climbing skills.

Before launching into this...full disclosure. I have never been a ski patroller. I am coming at this from the perspective of a guide with self-rescue skills, and as a instructor for team-based technical rescue. This blog isn't meant to be a discussion of ski patrol specific skills, but more of a what-can-we-learn-from-this-as-climbers discussion.

So there are a handful of takeaways from this, not-the-least-of-which is to avoid being rescued by a ski patroller in (state name redacted). Why would you be skiing in (state name redacted) anyway? Did you see what kind of snow they have in the video...?

Anyway, here are some thoughts:

1) Use an Anchor or get beneath the Victim!

In the video, the ski patroller on the left is at a wide angle. Occasionally we are forced in a climbing setting to place a belayer far from the base of the crag. This happens in any top-roped climbing when situation where it is not possible to be close to the base of the crag. When there is a wide angle like the one in the video, the belayer is always pulled in.

There are two ways to mitigate this problem. The first way is to anchor yourself down and the second way is to eliminate the angle.

At the end of the video, the guy on the ground says to his hanging buddy, "you know next time...Ima' gonna have to get up there and hold ya'." Holding the other ski patroller wouldn't work. He could clip himself to the patroller to increase the weight, essentially creating a "meat anchor," but the best thing of all would simply be to tie the belayer down.

However, if the belayer was wearing a normal harness and wasn't using a "what-the-!%&@-is-he-doing strap," he might have been able to get directly beneath the snowboarder and probably wouldn't have needed an anchor at all.

2) Use a Climbing Harness or a Rescue Harness for Rescue Work

Ahhh...this one seems a little obvious. If the strap had slipped off the ski patroller's legs, the victim would have fallen to the ground.

3) Counterbalance Situation

This is more in response to something that shouldn't have happened in the first place, but once both the ski patroller and the snowboarder are both hanging, they are essentially counterbalancing each other. If the ski patroller rappels, the snowboarder will remain where he is. Once the ski patroller is on the ground and continues to lower the snowboarder will come down.

Had this situation been a bit different, the ski patroller might have had to counterbalance rappel with the snowboarder. In other words, the only way for the two of them to move together is for the ski patroller to clip something to the snowboarder and then rappel. As the patroller lowers, he would pull the snowbarder to the ground.  Due to the lack of harness' and competence in this arena, this would not have been realistic for this team.

Rescue Strategy

These guys made some mistakes and they learned from them. Certainly, they won't do this this way in the future.

The reality is that a rescue is always the victim's emergency. The last thing you want to do is to make something worse. If you're in a rescue scenario, don't rush. Think about consequences of any systems you build and mitigate the dangers...

--Jason D. Martin


Unknown said...

LOL yeah as a ski patroller for ten years I can relate. My only comment is that as a patroller you are rarely if ever evacuating one chair, your usually on snow covered featureless slopes and the people stuck are cold. Setting anchors is just about impossible and even if possible is very time consuming.

Donald S said...

So one of the things I will say is that my patrol does use the webbing harnesses for our lift evacuation. We've had a good experience with them but we also used them much more correctly than they did here. I teach my patrollers to fit their webbing harnesses to them. I even recommend fitting it after you buy it and when you have all your ski clothes on that way when you need it, its already tied at the right spot. The webbing harness can be used successfully if properly fitted and doesn't have 3 ft of extra slack like it did here.

Jason Martin said...

@Jeff G You could always use a "meat anchor." In other words, you clip someone to somone else. This would be the quickest and easiest way.

A second option in a snow setting would be to bury a pair of skis and use them as a deadman anchor...


Unknown said...

Hi Jason. Good point, your "meat anchor" is actually standard NSP protocol (at least where I was trained)

Jim said...

leader: "You're good though right?"
camera man: "Do y'all need help with anything?"

I really liked the 'behind the knee' belay- do you think this technique could be applied in crevasse rescue?

justinfinnblogger said...

It’s basically negligent to use a harness that doesn’t have leg loops or is impossible to unintentionally remove from a belayer. Why on earth would you use anything other than a proper climbing style harness

justinfinnblogger said...

I hope your joking about the behind the knee belay - that is the most ridiculous set I’ve ever seen, and is basically negligent