FRANCONIA, New Hampshire — The National Ski Patrol, founded by C. Minot Dole in 1938, supported, and paralleled the growth of the American ski business. Dole and the NSP convinced the Army to activate a division of American mountain soldiers on the eve of World War II and veterans of the 10th Mountain Division formed a network that spread the sport across the country. In the postwar years ski patrols adapted to new challenges brought on by increased growth, a new awareness of avalanche hazards, and changing cultural, medical and technological realities. A new exhibit opening Friday, June 1, 2007 at the New England Ski Museum tells the story with objects, photographs and text.
The ski patrol concept was imported from Europe in the early 1930s. Europeans, notably the Swiss, had developed the basic techniques of transporting injured skiers by toboggan over snow, and backcountry first aid knowledge was a requirement for all ski instructors. Roland Palmedo, the discoverer of Stowe Vermont as a ski region, called for the establishment of ski patrols in the US, and by 1934 and 1935 several such groups had been formed at North Creek, New York and at Mt. Mansfield, Vermont.
Dole had first-hand knowledge of the need for ski patrols, having broken an ankle himself and then lost his best friend to a skiing accident in 1936. Together with Roger Langley of the National Ski Association, he founded the NSP and directed its growth until 1950. After two intense years spent organizing the structure of the patrol, at the beginning of World War II he involved the NSP in recruiting more than 10,000 skiing soldiers for the 10th Mountain Division.
After the war, as skiing grew rapidly, spurred in part by veterans of the 10th, ski areas and patrols had to contend with a new need for controlling the potential for avalanches. Monty Atwater pioneered American snow science at Alta, Utah after the war, and helped develop the tools of avalanche control??вЂќexplosives thrown by hand or fired from artillery or the gas-powered Avalauncher developed from a baseball-pitching machine??вЂќused by patrols and highway departments in the west today.
There had been paid ski patrols in a few locations in the US before the war, notably at Cannon and Cranmore in New Hampshire and Sun Valley in Idaho, but in the 1950s more and more areas hired patrollers, and several groups evolved to further their standards. The Professional Ski Patrol Association was formed in the early 1960s, and several years later the NSP Certified Program, using identical testing protocols, came on the scene. George Wesson, who first patrolled at Mt. Wachusett in 1938 and was patrol director at Mt Mansfield, Sugarbush and Killington, was a key figure in both the PSPA and the NSP Certified Program.
In recent years, the NSP and patrols in general have continued to adapt to changes in technology by incorporating advances in medical care, communications and snowsports equipment into their routines. Patrols serving Nordic skiers and mountain bikers have been formed, and in the past decade snowboard patrollers have become a common sight.
The exhibit will be on display from June 1, 2007 until the end of March 2008.
About the New England Ski Museum
Located in Franconia Notch NH next to the Cannon Mountain Tramway, the Museum is a non-profit, member-supported museum dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting aspects of ski history. The Museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM seven days a week from Memorial Day through the end of March. Admission is free. For more information call 800-639-4181 or visit www.skimuseum.org.