Chills and Thrills

Whether it’s a toboggan ride down the hill, an avalanche rescue, or just a bit of friendly advice, the Big Sky Ski Volunteer Ski Patrol has lent a hand at southwest Montana's famed resort for more than 25 years. But the patrol often loses members to the mountain's professional patrol staff or to other resorts, which is why Brain Murphy, who has headed up the Big Sky Volunteer Ski Patrol for six years, needs 35 new full-time volunteers this season.

The patrol, which Murphy wants to be 120 volunteers strong, relies as much on new recruits as it does on veterans like Dean Hall (who has been there 25 years) and John Ralph (23 years). The volunteers work hand-in-hand with the Big Sky professional patrol staff to provide avalanche control as well as quick, expert assistance in order to ensure that Big Sky’s skiers and snowboarders have a safe experience on the mountain.

“We strongly feel that this is a great program,” says Murphy. “We’ve got good training, great people, an incredible mountain to ski, and mostly, folks who volunteer their services to help other people.”

“The successful candidate will love to ski, love to be in the outdoors, no matter what the weather,” explains Murphy. “He or she will love to work in a team environment… and love to help other people.” Prospective volunteers will need to have a current State of Montana and National Registry Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification, as well as a current AED/CPR (Automatic External Defibrillation/Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) certification.

All Big Sky volunteer ski patrollers receive annual training that includes a three-day medical-refresher course and a two-day on-the-mountain refresher that involves learning lift-closure protocol and practicing various lift-evacuation scenarios, as well as practicing technical lowering skills, avalanche response, and mountain operations.

Rookie volunteer ski patrollers also attend an intensive four-day training program. “This allows us to teach the candidates how to adapt their EMT skills to the outdoors,” says Murphy. The four-day rookie program also focuses on ski skills, toboggan-handling skills, patient care in an outdoor environment, patient interaction, and documentation procedures. Rookies are then shadowed by an experienced volunteer patroller for hands-on training.

After receiving the training, active members of the Big Sky Volunteer Ski Patrol must serve 16 full-duty days on the hill. In exchange, they receive a season pass (a family pass or an individual pass with guest skier vouchers), a fairly extensive “pro-form” program (to provide equipment discounts from ski gear manufacturers), and resort discounts.

“This [volunteer] ski patrol program requires a fairly big commitment level, but the benefits are extensive,” says Murphy. “The volunteer relationship with the professional staff strengthens each year. It is thoroughly enjoyable to walk into the boot-up each day and see patrollers who have worked at the resort for 25-plus years sitting next to a first-year volunteer.” This environment is a big part of why they have such a great staff, he explains. And it’s that kind of cooperative, friendly atmosphere that brings volunteers back, year after year.

The Big Sky Volunteer Ski Patrol will hold its annual rookie meeting at MacKenzie River Pizza Company in Belgrade on October 8 at 7 pm. To learn more about becoming a volunteer ski patroller, check out