Ski Lines: Volunteers the key at local ski areas

Woman in black and white jacket in front of ski slopes

Amy Ward (Photo provided)

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Most organizations that depend on volunteers know how hard it is to recruit new blood, especially if the work requires on-site training, certification, annual refreshers and a commitment to travel at least 10 days in winter for an 8 a.m.-4 p.m. assignment, mostly outdoors.

Like the sound of that? The Ski Patrol wants you.

Ski areas throughout the country are required to have a ski patrol in order to operate. It is a matter of law. At large areas, many members of the patrol are paid, although just how much has become a matter of contention in recent years, as the cost of living near most ski areas has gone up quicker than the level of compensation for the work.

In our area,  patrollers at Windham Mountain are paid. At Gore, about one-third of the roster is paid. 

But what about the small, local areas where revenues are more modest and budgets are tighter?  The need for qualified patrollers is just as important. The answer: Volunteers. The cost of a ski ticket would be much higher without them.


Take Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake, for instance. 

There are 25 patrollers on the roster now, the most ever. All are volunteers. Some have been there for years, like Jerry McGraw, a former National Grid manager, and Albany architect Dick Hoffman. Both came to Royal when the former North Creek Ski Bowl closed in the mid-1970s.They have been regular volunteer patrollers for more than 50 years now. Both drive an hour to put in their hours on the hill. 

At the other end of the spectrum, there are four new patrollers this year, ranging in age from 20s to early 40s. One is from Walton, a two-hour drive from Royal. Overall, the patrol numbers show an increase of 10 since Amy Ward first joined five years ago. 

Ward grew up in Caroga Lake, but was not a skier until in her 20s. A registered nurse, she now lives in Johnstown. She became patrol leader a year ago. At a time when recruiting volunteers is a challenge, she has had notable success.

“We have had good results talking to people in health services, especially in the EMT program in Johnstown,” Ward said earlier this week. 

Candidates for the patrol historically have come through ski family connections or word of mouth. Ward believes that actively reaching out to people with emergency medical involvement has been what has worked for Royal lately.

“These are people who already have or soon will have the first responder skills necessary to become a ski patroller.” Ward said. “They have the training to take the Emergency Outdoor Care test and then, with CPR  competency and sled handling certification, qualify to become certified patrollers.”


Some people lose interest when they realize this is a volunteer position, but those who understand the requirements and sign on, stay on, according to Ware. And that includes women as well as men. 

“We have eight women on our 25 person roster at Royal” noted Ward. “And that involvement is growing. There is no part of the position women can’t handle.”

The reward? Personal satisfaction and friendships.

Is it all work? Certainly not. Patrollers, by definition, are on the hill on skis. And involved. The popular patrol-sponsored Cardboard Sled Derby Fundraiser at Royal is set for March 18. And on the nourishment front, home-cooked chili is a tradition in the patrol shack at lunchtime.  Goose Jambalaya is a new favorite these days.

Jake Tennis took over ownership of Royal from Jim Blaise three winters ago. Like his predecessor, Tennis understands how important the Patrol is to his operation.

“Of course we couldn’t operate a ski hill without a patrol,” Tennis said. “And ours is a great one. It is not a job for them. As volunteers, they are all here because they want to be.

‘It is a great situation for us.”

It goes both ways, said Ward.

“Jim was always very good to us, and Jake is, too,” Ward said. “There is good camaraderie on a good patrol, and I think we have that here at Royal. We have guidance and a knowledge base from the veterans like Jerry and Dick and the roster refreshment that comes with new recruits. That’s a good recipe for long-term success.”  

First aid volunteers and skiing in our area goes back more than 90 years  with the Schenectady Wintersports Club and The Safety Committee at the North Creek Ski Bowl in the 1930s. There are 35,000 registered members of the National Ski Patrol in the country today. The Eastern Division is the largest section with 9,300, about 80% of whom are volunteers.  

Said Ward: “We always have room for more people.”


For years, the showing of the annual Warren Miller film each fall has marked an unofficial start to the ski season in our area and served as a popular fundraiser for local ski clubs.

It seems there will be a film here next fall. Outside Inc, which has owned Warren Miller Films since 2020, is not planning to shoot new locations. However, it will take film shot for past movies and re-edit the old footage in a new production. The Schenectady Wintersports Club  took over the local showing last November and has rights to sponsor it again this fall.


The Hickory ski area outside Warrensburg is still hoping to start up its lifts this winter. But so far, according to its website, the necessary authorization has not been received from the state.

Hickory was started in 1947, and much of its support over the years came from local families with GE connections. With no snowmaking and just rudimentary grooming, the area has always been challenging for skiers. It has not run lift-serviced operations since 2015.    


The annual Snowbox Derby at Maple Ski Ridge is set for Saturday, Feb. 25. This fun event requires that sleds be made from cardboard and duct tape only, and can carry no more than two riders. No steering mechanisms are permitted and there are no practice runs allowed. Helmets are required. Costumes and sled decorations are encouraged. Check in on race day starts at 9:30 a.m. The race is set to begin at 11 a.m. The registration fee is $10, $5 for Maple Ridge passholders.    

Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].


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