KEEPING THE SLOPES SAFE
- Dick Mason
- The Observer
Whether he has a scalpel or a ski pole in hand, Jim Kopp is a healer, someone who steps outside the bounds of his medical practice to help others.
Kopp is an orthopedic surgeon and a member of the Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol, which administers first aid to injury victims.
Working as a ski patroller is a complex task, but Kopp's reason for serving is fundamental.
"I'm trying to do something for the community. Everybody has a desire to do their little bit to give back to their community,'' said Kopp, who has served on the Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol for almost 20 years and lives in Cove.
Idle time on winter weekends for Kopp is sometimes as rare as antique wooden skis with leather toe straps. The physician has an avalanche of responsibilities because of his practice and ski patrol assignments. Still, he welcomes the challenge of working as a ski patroller the way one relishes hot cocoa after a winter day on a mountain.
"First, I love to ski and I love being involved with the ski patrol. It's great to be out there,'' Kopp said.
Kopp readily shares his medical knowledge with other patrollers. The surgeon emphatically believes he has learned more from his fellow patrollers than they from him.
Kopp explained that patrollers have taught him volumes about emergency medical care. He has applied this knowledge at Anthony Lakes and in his practice.
"It has made me a better physician,'' Kopp said.
He points out that he has gained a better understanding of injuries and can make diagnoses faster.
"I'm better able to do things like order the right X-rays,'' Kopp said.
Kopp added that his first-aid skills have also improved. He is now better at recognizing and treating injuries in the field.
Patty Gooderham, a member of the Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol, said Kopp's presence on the patrol is very welcome.
An ability to administer first aid is just one of many skills Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol members need. Knowledge of how to evacuate injured skiers from steep slopes is also a must. This is harder than one might think since toboggans are used to transport downed skiers rather than snowmobiles. The reason is that snowmobiles often can't reach steep areas and can pose a hazard to other skiers, Kopp said.
Patrollers also must be ready to evacuate skiers from the chair lift if a malfunction shuts it down.
"I always carry a special rope with me in case I need it,'' Kopp said.
Each fall Kopp and many other patrollers conduct a lift evacuation drill at Ski Anthony Lakes. Some participants board the ski lift. It then runs until chairs are over the evacuation site. A patroller tosses a rope over a cable. A T-bar chair is then raised with rope from the ground to the ski lift. Lift riders are lowered to the ground by a belay team.
The odds that an emergency evacuation will be needed at Ski Anthony Lakes are remote since it has a noteworthy safety record, Gooderham said.
Only one evacuation at Anthony Lakes has been needed in the past 40 years. That lone evacuation was made about 25 years ago. The lift was not full at the time.
The lack of ski-lift problems at Anthony Lakes is one reason annual evacuation practice sessions are so important, Gooderham said. She explained that these sessions are the only time ski patrollers get to hone their evacuation skills.
Kopp, Gooderham and all Anthony Lakes ski patrollers are also in charge of avalanche safety. The ski patrol does an extensive amount of work to reduce the avalanche hazard in the ski area. Patrollers are constantly performing tests, surveying conditions and making prescribed ski runs to guarantee safety. The ski runs are designed to reduce avalanche pressure.
The Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol will on occasion use dynamite to reduce the risk of avalanches, but it has not been used for several years, Gooderham said.
Help from people like Kopp and Gooderham allow the ski patrol to provide first aid, rescue and skier safety services on average more than 80 days each winter. The patrol also assists Union County Search and Rescue, provides avalanche awareness workshops in La Grande, Pendleton and Walla Walla, and provides first-aid services.
First aid services are also provided regularly for the annual Boy Scout Klondike Derby at Anthony Lakes, several snowmobile and cross country ski races, and the July Super Shoot 3-D Archery Tournament.
The ski patrol has about 45 active members. Patrol members have served an average of more than 10 years, far above the national average.
The Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol is part of the National Ski Patrol system. Kopp noted that the National Ski Patrol has the same standards for all patrollers. This means that the standard of care injured skiers receive is the same at all ski areas served by patrols connected to the National Ski Patrol system.
Kopp and other patrollers ski down runs throughout the day to watch for mishaps or anyone who needs help. Having patrollers on the slopes makes it possible for them to respond faster than if they were observing from a viewpoint, Gooderham said.
Patrollers also ski down the runs each morning before Anthony Lakes opens to make sure it is safe. They also make a sweep of the area after it closes to make sure that nobody is stranded.
The efforts of the Anthony Lakes Ski Patrol have not gone unnoticed. In 1999-2000 the patrol was recognized as the top ski patrol in the Pacific Northwest. It was named Outstanding Alpine Patrol for 1999-2000.
The nucleus of the patrol that received the award is still in place. It is one that enjoys an uncommon esprit de corps, Gooderham said.
"Our patrol is a pretty close group. Everybody does their share and more, particularly Jim (Kopp) he goes the extra step.''