Mountain Patrollers roll out welcome mat
June 23, 2007
At the top of Sterling Express, the imposing peaks of Timpanogos rise in the West and the city of Heber can be seen to the south.
Turn around to the east and the dark water of Jordanelle Reservoir sits at the base of green rolling hills framed by the distant blue Uinta Mountains. To the north, thousands of feet below, rests Park City.
"It’s spectacular," said Susi Peeples as she stood with her family of five, each of them sporting helmets and holding the handle bars of their mountain bikes. "It looks like the Alps."
After a few snapshots, the family from Arizona mounted their bikes and pedaled off to a series of trails, trails constantly maintained by the Deer Valley Mountain Patrol.
"We inspect the trails every day," said Steve Graff, the mountain bike manager for Deer Valley. "We do the main arteries first then we try to get every trail ridden at least once a week."
With 55 miles of biking trails, and new ones being built every year, that is a hefty job for the 10 patrollers on staff,
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"It takes a long time," Graff said.
But few complain..
"We ride a bike for a living, there are worse things to do," Graff said.
That sentiment is shared with the staff at all three Park City resorts.
"It’s a totally different world from the winter," said Jake Hutchinson, the director of ski patrol for The Canyons, who runs a similar summer regimen. "It’s grunt labor and chainsaw and everything else. It’s a little dirtier in the summer
but it’s still a pretty good job to be outside every day."
Most of their work involves smoothing out ruts, clearing debris and making sure all will be safe for families such as the Peeples. The labor, they hope, will pre-empt any possible injuries.
"Our focus is maintenance," Graff said.
They sometimes spend weeks on a trail after the winter or a heavy storm.
"Sometimes everything is going great, then a storm hits and the wind and the next day you have to get out your chainsaw," Graff said.
They also spend time making "water bars" to limit soil erosion when the snow melts.
Hiking trails don’t require as much maintenance, mainly because hiking is less abusive.
"The nature of downhill mountain biking and steep descents isn’t conducive to trail maintenance," Graff said.
There are nearly 12,000 trail users each year at Deer Valley. With that number, maintenance is critical for safety and enjoyment. That’s why they inspect every trail at least once a week.
Hutchinson agrees that safety for the guests is the No.1 objective.
"We are kind of multi-faceted. Our primary responsibility is medical attention for our guests and being here for the gondola during operator hours. We also maintain and take care of trails and work on winter signs," Hutchinson said.
There are serious accidents on the mountain, but far fewer than during ski and snowboard season. In the winter, Graff said there are fewer than four severe accidents per 1,000 visitors.
"There is not even one (serious accident) per 1,000 visitors in the summer," Graff said.
"The majority are abrasions, we do a lot of cleaning wounds and bandaging," said Susan Anderson, a bike patroller for Deer Valley.
Cuts and bruises are part of the game. Graff said his wife doesn’t even respond to him anymore when he comes home complaining of another fall.
"I’m scarred head-to-toe from this," Graff said.
Anderson said people need to remember gloves and other protective gear to go with a helmet. She said many people scrape or cut up their hands, elbows and legs.
Other more serious injuries involve shoulders and collar bones, Graff said. And there is a risk for even worse injuries.
"Serious injuries are incredibly rare," Graff said. "In the 14 years, including races that bring thousands of riders here, we’ve only had to use three helicopters."
Even though serious injury is the exception, the resorts plan for the worst.
"We have trucks and ATVs and a mule," Hutchinson said. "Our medical credentials are valid in the summer and winter. The National Ski Patrol has expanded it to include more summer stuff in the last few years."
Deer Valley uses a six-wheeler with a metal cage basket called a "Stokes Litter" attached to it in case they need to strap someone down and carry them off the mountain. The Stokes Litter similarly clips into a toboggan in the winter.
"Instead of a sled we use a six-wheeler in the summer. It will go almost everywhere," Graff said.
In the winter, patrollers sit at the top of the mountain and respond to accidents. In the summer, the patrollers are working on trails. If an emergency call comes in, one patroller will head to the victim and the other will go directly to the six-wheeler and bring the medical equipment. Every patroller is also a trained emergency medical (EMT) technician.
"You never know what’s going to happen day-to-day," Graff said. "We could be sitting here and we’ll get a call and we’ll have to leave immediately. There’s always something."
At times, it can be difficult to get injured people off the mountain in the summer without the convenience of using a sled or toboggan, according to Hutchinson.
"It’s a challenge in the summer," Hutchinson said. "There are not as many patrollers and you have to be self sufficient and it takes some creativity to get people off the mountain."
Bikers are a little more careful than skiers, Hutchinson said, because "they have less of an expectation that somebody will take them off the mountain if they do get hurt."
"They seem a little tougher," he continued. "The mountain biker is willing to deal with cuts and scrapes, but when mountain bikers do get hurt, they tend to be on the more serious side than skiers."