By Adrienne Fischer
If you hit the slopes this winter at Loveland Ski Area, you may run into Christina Saunders and Eric Massof (although you probably hope that you don’t). These two are lawyers by day and volunteer ski patrol by weekend. On the weekends, Loveland supplements their full-time pro-patrol with volunteer ski patrollers. Currently, Loveland has a roster of approximately 130 volunteer patrollers.
Christina Saunders is a partner at Sparkman + Foote LLP, where her practice areas include intellectual property, corporate law, and art and entertainment law. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Colorado IP American Inns of Court, and she chairs the Board of Directors at The Gathering Place. Having grown up in Park City, Utah. Christina is also a very skilled skier. She started skiing at age two, ski raced for two decades, and was on a NCAA Division I ski team in college. Christina likes helping people and seeks out opportunities to give back. In her own words, the volunteer ski patrol is a nice way to harmonize her desire to help other people and her passion and love for skiing.
After spending eight years doing defense work in litigation for large companies in Baltimore, Eric Massof moved to Denver and is currently working in a federal contract attorney position. As another attorney driven to help others, Eric thought ski patrol was a good way to give back and combine his love for skiing. The medical training is another driver for Eric to join ski patrol. Several years ago, Eric was rock climbing in a remote area in West Virginia with a friend when his friend fell and shattered his elbow. Being in the middle of nowhere, there was no cell reception. In his own words: “I was fortunate that the guy climbing next to us was an EMT and could talk me through it. There was a feeling of helplessness because I did not have the first clue about how to start helping my friend.”
Participating in Loveland’s volunteer ski patrol is a significant commitment; – one doesn’t just walk on. There’s a year of training before you can even start patrolling. Not to mention the tryouts. When Christina’s friend called her to tell her to come try out, she found herself among 30 skiers. She was one of two skiers selected to move on at that tryout to start training for the patrol (there are several per year).
The big challenge is figuring out how to balance the practice of law with ski patrol training. Training includes reading a 1250-page text book, eight hours of medical training per week and one weekend day per week of hill training and several exams. After training is complete, you become a member of patrol. As a volunteer patrol member, you are required to patrol 24-days per season. Massof felt he was able to do the training because of the flexible nature of his current position. “I could not have done this in private practice in Baltimore because of the inconsistent schedule associated with a busy litigation practice.” Christina, being Partner of a law firm, expressed gratitude because her firm is uniquely supportive of her role with the ski patrol training.
Eric has completed the Outdoor Emergency Care training, which is like an EMT training with an outdoor emphasis. Christina will complete this training in December.
All ski patrollers are trained to identify potential injuries and assess the severity of these injuries so they can provide the proper on-the- hill medical interventions that will allow them to immobilize the injury and transport the patient down the mountain. Some examples of interventions include splinting a wrist injury, immobilizing a suspected dislocated shoulder or even immobilizing a suspected broken femur with traction devices. “The goal is to get someone safely off the mountain to a higher level of care,” Saunders says.
On an average day, a volunteer ski patroller will arrive on the mountain by 7:30 in the morning. Each patroller is then assigend to an area so that every single run is checked out before the resort opens to make sure it’s safe for customers. They check everything from ropes to making sure signs are visible. According to Christina, “the policy is that you will always stop to see if you can be of help to other patrollers – whatever they need – from pulling up ropes so that snow cats could get on the hill, to digging out signs, etc. It’s truly a team effort.” At the end of the day, each patroller is assigned to a lift and to make sure no one is left on the mountain and complete end of day projects. They ensure there will never be a customer left on the mountain at the end of the day, and before everyone can go home all the patrollers must be accounted for as well. It’s been interesting to learn the nuts and bolts of operations. In Christina’s words, “You make sure the mountain is safe again before you put it to bed for the night.”
“Like being a lawyer, being on patrol is problem solving. You have to go through very methodically to assess an injury or medical emergency. It’s not that different when you get a new matter in your office and have to put together pieces to solve a problem,” says Saunders.
Eric thinks being a lawyer helped during his training. “Being trained as an attorney helps you assume the role of leadership in these scenarios. You have to gather all your facts before you figure out what your course of action will be, and this is the same as a litigator. If you’re an attorney you may miss something if you don’t ask the right question. Here, you can miss something if you don’t do all the steps to the assessment of the patient. Being trained as an attorney has been a huge benefit.”
Outdoor Emergency Transportation (toboggan sled training,) is also a component to the training for hill patrol. Christina values being on the patrol because it’s so engaging. “It gets [her] outside, gets [her] out of the office, it forces [her] to stop thinking about work. You have to be completely present because when you’re trying to get a sled down a double black diamond you can’t think about anything else.” By the way, the sled is about 80-90 pounds unloaded. Add an injured person, and the weight adds up quickly. It’s a good thing Christina is “one of the best skiers on the mountain,” (according to Eric).
There is a technique to get people down the mountain, but you must be a very strong skier to begin with to negotiate the terrain safely. The ski patrol instructor said at the beginning of training, “if you’re in shape now, you will be in the best shape of your life after sled training.” Eric has about 100 pounds on Christina, and she routinely drew straws to take him down in the sled on a double black mogul run.
“Patrol is a community … It’s a family up there.” There are so many diverse backgrounds: a couple of lawyers, rocket scientists, engineers, retail workers and of course, the pro patrollers — they all come together to help people, and to teach these medical courses and toboggan, mostly all on a volunteer basis.
Christina is looking forward to finishing training to fully join the volunteer patrol this season, and Eric is looking forward to his first full season on the patrol.
To those people who say they don’t have time for anything, but the law – these lawyers say, “You make time for what is important. You can do other things besides practice law. It is not the end all be all to your identity, and you can make time to do something else that is interesting to you.”
Eric and Christina both feel that being on volunteer ski patrol has been one of their all-time favorite experiences. “Learning a new skill later in life and making friends that range from 20-70 year olds all with uniquely different backgrounds. It’s the community, the comradery of these people using their free time to give back on the mountain.” So when you’re on the slopes this year, be kind to the ski patrollers, – you might see them across the table, or in court.
Adrienne Fischer is the founder of Summit Law Solutions, LLC, a law firm dedicated to providing legal solutions to startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.