Preparation is essential when heading into the back country and to my surprise that’s exactly what the Eldorado Backcountry Ski Patrol offers. They assist the U.S. Forest Service in Eldorado National Forest when called on for search and rescue efforts, but their main focus is to prevent the public from becoming a statistic in the first place.
Read about the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue
Every level of outdoor enthusiast is welcome. Even if you have no experience skiing, snowshoeing or splitboarding, Eldorado Backcountry Ski Patrol offers the perfect opportunity to gain the skills necessary to enjoy miles of winter wilderness with confidence. The group patrols the Crystal Basin, and the Highway 50 and Highway 88 corridors.
“It’s amazing how many people we run into who are unprepared,” says Ray Peart, current Patrol president.
“What I love most about the patrol is that we have members from all different backgrounds and abilities, but because we share a passion for the winter back country and a desire to serve, it has created many unlikely friendships that extend far beyond the patrol.”
Three years ago, skiers ignored extreme storm warnings and traveled through the Crystal Basin to Robbs Peak. After spending a few days huddled in Robbs Hut, the group was running low on supplies and contacted Eldorado Forest Service for help. The storm was relentless and massive amounts of snow had accumulated. The deep, dry snow caused the Forest Service snowcats to sink into tree wells, making it impossible to reach Robbs Peak or rescue the trapped skiers. The Forest Service contacted Eldorado Backcountry Ski Patrollers, who happened to be in the area.
Patrollers skied in and on arrival found the entire hut buried under several feet of snow. After digging a tunnel down to the door, they rescued the group and guided them back to the trailhead. Their story had a happy ending. While successful back-country rescues offer a great sense of accomplishment, Peart says he’d much rather give people the tools to prevent the need for search and rescue in the first place.
The organization, formerly known as Eldorado Nordic Ski Patrol, has been in existence since 1982 when Rudy Stauffer, a native of Switzerland, was working in the California ski industry and operating ski tours in Yosemite. Stauffer, who grew up skiing, saw a real need for search and rescue and realized the importance of organization. Stauffer along with Mike Peart, Peart’s uncle, and a dozen others founded the original organization; some are still involved.
In 2016, Peart found his way back to the Ski Patrol and in becoming president, he pushed to rebrand the organization in an attempt to reach a younger generation.
“Our focus is always education,” he says.
Volunteer for patrol, education
The push to reach a wider membership seems to be working. Membership includes a variety of people with varying backgrounds who come from as far away as Monterey.
Volunteer members have the option of becoming a patroller after two years of training with a mentor. Patrol prospects must obtain the required avalanche certification, pass wilderness medical training and prove to their mentor that they have the stamina to efficiently lead a strenuous patrol, typically over eight hours, through a variety of conditions and terrain. Currently, there are 13 active patrollers, five senior patrollers and four honored patrollers. Recently, the Ski Patrol opened patrol positions to snowshoers after meeting the necessary requirements.
The Ski Patrol does not require members to participate in search and rescue efforts. Much of the volunteer work EBSP does pertains to maintaining winter huts in Eldorado National Forest and marking trails with signage to prevent skiers or snowshoers from getting lost.
Feb 22-23 | Avalanche Awareness Class | Placerville
TBD | Ski & snowshoe event
March 3 | Membership meeting | Placerville
March 6 | Member Ski Skills Day | Kirkwood
March 9 | Ski & snowshoe event | Silver Lake
March 20 | Member Ski Skills Day | Sierra-At-Tahoe Resort
April TBD | Ski & snowshoe event
“Most of our members want to be more efficient in the back country,” says Peart. “But, what I love most about the patrol is that we have members from all different backgrounds and abilities, but because we share a passion for the winter back country and a desire to serve, it has created many unlikely friendships that extend far beyond the patrol.”
Attending a general meeting is the recommended first step to becoming a member. Held the first Tuesday of every month at the Forest Service office in Placerville, meetings are open to the public. | ebsp.org