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El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol: Snow Safety First

01/29/2018 11:31AM

February is the peak of ski season in the Sierra Nevada, when snow enthusiasts come in droves to enjoy downhill, cross-country, and snowshoeing activities. It’s also when the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol (EDNSP)—a volunteer ski and snow patrol group that marks and maintains trails, patrols backcountry areas, and provides winter safety educational programs to the public—is in high gear. 

Its members share a love of the outdoors and skiing. As stated by Rich Platt, a founding member and senior patroller, the EDNSP is all about “skiing with a mission to serve the public.” Senior Patroller Mickey Kaiserman has been a member of EDNSP for 12 years. He serves on the board of directors and has been a past president and vice president. “I’ve been a backcountry skier and snowshoer since the 1960s,” says Kaiserman. “I joined the group because I wanted to improve my backcountry skills, awareness, and safety.”

When on duty, the patrollers are in radio contact with the U.S. Forest Service—responding to public emergencies and providing information regarding trail conditions, weather, and avalanche hazards.  

Kaiserman tells of an incident last season when the Forest Service requested help in a rescue. “Two snowshoers were staying at Robbs Hut (in the Crystal Range area) and required a team of EDNSP patrollers to break trail up to the hut,” Kaiserman explains. “Our team assisted the stranded, snowed-in pair down from the hut to their vehicles, which were also buried in the snow. Everyone had to act quickly before the next storm arrived and dropped a considerable amount of new snow.” 

The original EDNSP, formed in 1982, was organized with the guidance of Rudy Stauffer. Born and raised in Switzerland, Stauffer had been skiing and working within the ski industry for most his life. Upon moving to California, he operated a ski touring center in Yosemite and established a ski program for school children. Stauffer's skills and knowledge helped the early members gain an understanding of what it takes to organize a volunteer winter search and rescue organization.

In addition to monthly ski and snowshoe tours, EDNSP will offer a two-day “Avalanche Awareness” class on March 3-4. Open to the public, the class is one day inside the classroom and a second day out in the field. “In the classroom, we discuss how weather, snowpack, terrain, and the human element impact the probability of an avalanche,” Kaiserman says. “We'll also talk about avalanche rescue gear, red flags, human factors, and rescue fundamentals. The second day is in the field, and we dig snow pits, practice transceiver/probe/shovel rescue, make snowpack observations, and look for red flags.”

By Janet Scherr

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