Lifeguards of the mountains

MORRIS – Adding up all the years of service that members of the Ski Sawmill Ski Patrol have under their belts, surely would span well over a century.

The volunteer-based group is part of the Eastern Division of the Western Appalachian Region of the National Ski Patrol, which turns 75 this year.

The patrol is comprised of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes of Ski Sawmill who provide first-responder service to patrons of Ski Sawmill.

“We assist people that have been hurt on the hill, render first aid and evacuate (them) off the hill,” said Michelle Koons, eastern section chief of the Western Appalachian region and a 36-year Ski Sawmill Patrol member.

Jim Myers, a 26-year member, said the patrol also foresees any hazards that could cause injuries to skiers or others on the slopes.

Founded in 1971, the ski patrol moved to the Ski Sawmill from a slope called Highland Ski Area that once was in the Hughesville area.

Since then, the patrol has become very established, even building its own lodge to the right side of the main lodge at Ski Sawmill.

Koons said most members do a combination of spending time in the lodge and patrolling the slopes. They stay in contact with each other and the lodge through a radio system.

“If we see someone doing something unsafe, we educate them and explain to them what they are doing is or could be a hazard to their health,” Myers said.

“We usually have 100-plus people we treat in the winter. That can be anything from a splinter from a railing to a bad crash,” Koons said.

Occasionally injuries are severe enough that a medical helicopter is called in to fly someone out.

The patrol members are not instructors who teach the ins and outs of skiing or snowboarding, but Myers said if they do see

someone having problems, they will try to help them out.

“We try to help them up if they are having a hard time,” Myers said.

Right now, the group has 28 patrolers, all who volunteer on a rotating schedule to keep the slopes safe.

Patrolers run six-hour shifts, as assigned on Saturday and Sunday of every third weekend, and two weeknights each month.

“We have three teams and we rotate teams on weekends and have signup for weeknights,” he said.

Myers and Koons said members are from all walks of life and vary in experience.

“They are people that like to be out in the winter (and) have a good time in the snow,” Myers said.

Some members travel from local areas such as Wellsboro and Mansfield, and Myers said they also have some from Mifflinburg.

All of the time spent training and patrolling helps create a family bond, Koons said.

“I would say the high points of patrol is the camaraderie of the patrol. We are like a family, and the fact that everyone loves to ski is why we are here,” she said.

Some of the patrol members even have raised their kids on the slopes

“Even (their) grandkids,” Myers added.

All members must pass a ski or ride agility assessment to join.

The test shows the skill level of the skier or snowboarder in all types of terrain and varied conditions at Ski Sawmill. Patrolers also have to learn to run a toboggan, using techniques such as snowplow, side slip and parallel skiing.

As part of the National Ski Patrol, they follow all the training and bylaws of the organization. The National Ski Patrol was founded in 1938 and is present on slopes all across the nation.

The Ski Sawmill Ski Patrol is looking for men and women who would like to join. It is holding ski and ride ability assessment tests at 10 a.m. March 2 at Ski Sawmill.

One requirement for the test is an enrollment in an outdoor emergency care certificate class that will be held in September, or a current certification of that type.

For more information, call Eric Waldman at 279-0181 or email