It ain’t like it used to be … or is it?
Dave McCoy founded Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol in 1954. Patrollers came, stayed, and went for 63 years before the first reunion was held in May 2017.
Former patroller Ian Scott helped organize the first reunion. He wanted to get former patrollers together to tell stories to strengthen the history.
The reunion was a success and spurred the creation of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol Alumni (MMSPA). MMSPA is hosting a fundraiser called “The Rat Pack Weekend”, May 3-5. The next reunion will be May 2020.
The Sheet sat down with Scott and current patrollers Kyle Williams and Scott Donaghey to talk about patrolling and alumni. Donaghey started in 2007-2008. Williams in 2011-12. Scott patrolled from 1985-2001.
They love it. Scott still loves it and he’s retired.
“People who haven’t patrolled in thirty to forty years still tell you it’s the best job you’ll ever have,” Scott said.
Scott and Williams both made there first turns on Mammoth. Williams guessed it was probably on Sesame Street off of Chair 11. Scott’s first was Jill’s Run off Chair 6. Donaghey thinks his was on Thunder Ridge, a ski area in Patterson, New York.
They couldn’t recall the exact runs or exact dates. The turns started a long time ago. The turns turned to runs to days, to seasons and seasons and seasons.
This February brought a blur of storms that dropped 207.5 inches of snow.
“You walked out at the end of the day and you can’t remember where you parked your car,” Donaghey said.
“It’d be buried again,” Williams added.
They’ve all been caught in slides, partial burials only. They call it “going for a ride.”
What did they think of people complaining in lift lines while they wait for the lifts to open?
Donaghey had soething to say, “Patrollers are making ski cuts. They are not turning the way they want to be.”
They aren’t stealing turns and they have to resist the temptation not from below, but on the snow.
“That was Dave McCoy’s thing: save it for the guests.” Williams said.
“With the previous director, if you made turns to high you were done,” Scott said.
“That’s how it was back in the day. That’s how it is now.”
There have been over a thousand patrollers in Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol’s history.
The alumni association has patrollers who worked the McGee Mountain Rope Tow from 1938-1941.
Grooming standards have relaxed since then. McCoy required men to have short hair and a shaved faced.
“On patrol, we couldn’t have twenty-four hour stubble,” Scott said. “There was plenty of rusty razors around for you to shave before you went out.”
Some things are learned and practiced for life.
“I go ski with my dad and he still bends over to pick up rocks,” Williams said.
“I might not pick up another mountain’s bamboo but I’m going to notice when it’s on the ground,” Donaghey said, referring to the sticks used to hold up portable fences.
Scott joked, “I make a terrible public skier still. Wait in line. I don’t do that.”
They agreed that this was their favorite place to ski and that the skiing was good. They’re biased. Blame the mountain.
“Other places might get some more snow or whatever your definition of better snow. If it doesn’t snow at Jackson for two weeks the skiing is terrible. If it doesn’t snow here for two weeks, it’s still pretty good in between the wind buff and corn cycles,” Williams said.
Patrollers come from all over the US. There’s a rookie from Kansas, Daniel Bittel.
Current Director Bobby Hoyt is from upstate New York.
Mammoth’s seasons are historically long and this one will be too.
They are looking forward to the end: another season in the belt.
Donaghey’s break doesn’t last long. “After a week out of boots I start getting the itch again.”
One of the original six patrollers at Mammoth, Dick Dahlgren still feels the itch.
He worked 32 years as a real estate broker but the job he loves the most was being a ski patroller.
The original six technically weren’t the first patrol.
In 1957, Earl Morris was the first ski patroller, but he didn’t ski. He rode a Tucker Snowcat around the mountain. In ’59, the mountain hired six patrollers to work on skis. Dahlgren described the group as “surfers from southern California.” They were 21 years old. One was 22. Darrel Aukee was 18.
The qualifications: be able to ski in all conditions, take a one day first aid course, and ski the face of Chair 3 with a Sun Valley toboggan by yourself.
Skiing thrilled. 25 cent beers at Mammoth Tavern thrilled. But doing the job seriously drove them.
“It was a real thrill to take someone who was injured safely down the mountain,” Dahlgren said.
“We raised holy hell.”
He remembered Dave McCoy scolding them for, let’s say, courting the ski racer women. “Leave the ski race girls alone,” McCoy yelled.
Dahlgren, like Donaghey, said that they were getting paid for a job they’d have paid to do. They are half a century apart
It’s patrol’s policy, probably unwritten, that when patrollers gets published they buy the others beer. It’s like hitting a hole-in-one. Hopefully the mention of Bittel doesn’t require him to reach for his wallet.