Park City Mountain Resort recently announced that it his eliminating its volunteer ski patrol program. For Michael Cook and the rest of the volunteer ski patrollers who have staffed Park City Mountain Resort over the last several decades, it’s the end of an era.
The resort recently eliminated its National Ski Patrol volunteer program, announcing the decision to both the volunteers and full-time patrollers earlier this month in a staff email from Senior Ski Patrol Manager Bill Gray. The email, obtained by The Park Record, cites a desire to improve the customer experience as the reason for the change.
“As our resort has grown significantly over the past few years, and in order to deliver our vision for the guest experience, we have decided to staff and further develop our patrol program using only employees and eliminating the NSP volunteer patrol program,” the message states.
Cook, director of the volunteer ski patrol at PCMR’s Canyons Village base area, said the announcement came as a surprising blow to the roughly 90 volunteer patrollers, who have traditionally helped staff the mountain during busy times like weekends and holidays.
“Obviously it’s a disappointment,” he said, adding that he wasn’t given advance notice before the mass email. “I’ve been doing this almost 40 years. This is a significant group of ski patrollers that represent almost 800 years of ski patrolling experience.”
The volunteer patrollers weren’t the only ones discouraged by the announcement. Robby Young, president of the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association — the union representing the resort’s paid patrollers — said the volunteers were a critical part of the mountain’s operations.
“The volunteer patrol has been with us for a long time,” said Young, who has been at the Canyons Village base area for seven years. “They are certainly part of our ski patrol family, our community, and a big part of our history and culture. It’s disappointing to see that program come to an end, just because we appreciate how much help those guys do for us.”
PCMR officials held a question-and-answer meeting on Aug. 14 with volunteer patrollers, but Cook said no further rationale was given for the change.
Jessica Miller, a spokeswoman for the resort, said in an email that PCMR intends to hire additional paid patrollers this season to replace the work done by the volunteers. In a statement to The Park Record, Bill Rock, the resort’s chief operating officer, said volunteers will be eligible to apply for the jobs.
“We value the contributions the NSP volunteer patrollers have made to our company and hope they will consider applying for a full-time, five-day a week position,” said Rock, who was out of the office and declined an interview through Miller.
To Cook, the opportunity to seek a paid position does little to soothe the disappointment. However, he said he knows of “quite a few” volunteers who intend to apply.
Regardless, replacing the patrollers won’t be an insignificant task, Cook said. For years, they’ve filled a number of important roles on the mountain, amounting to more than 13,000 hours of service each season. In addition to supplementing the efforts of the full-time staff during busy days, the volunteers helped train new patrollers, both paid and non-paid.
The volunteers also designed and implemented annual medical seminars for the entire patrol staff, Cook said.
“The full-time patroller shows up two weeks or three weeks before the resort is supposed to open because they come from their summer jobs or from river rafting or being a ranger or what have you,” he said. “The volunteers are more available in the fall, so we’ve been able to run medical courses.
“They have to replace us,” he added. “They have to replace those hours. They couldn’t function without them.”
Cook said the volunteers have offered to again provide instructors this fall during the transition. Resort officials seemed open to the idea, he said, but have not given him a decision.
“Even with the disappointment of this decision,” he said, “we’re still willing to help the guests.”