Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Winter Volunteer Opportunities and Winter Operations Training

As the snow accumulates at Paradise, I have begun receiving e-mails from Meadow Rovers asking about options for winter volunteering. While such opportunities are more limited than they are in the summer months, they are not non-existent, and plans have been developing behind the scenes for winter operations training and supervision. Here’s a quick summary of what’s on the agenda:

Nordic Patrol training, December 2010
photo by Phil Hertzog
Nordic Patrol, Interpretation, and Snow Roving
There are three main options for winter volunteering, depending on your skills, interests, and experience. Nordic Patrol, AKA Ski Patrol, is a partnership between Mount Rainier National Park and the Washington Ski Touring Club (WSTC). Its members patrol the routes above Paradise on skis, coordinated by the park’s division of Visitor and Resource Protection. They provide both preventative and responsive search and rescue, and monitor the ski routes for potential danger. Patrol members should be physically fit and comfortable on skis. To participate, contact WSTC through their website at http://www.wstc.org.

Winter Interpreters, by contrast, work primarily out of the Visitor Center. They assist visitor center staff at the information desk on a regular basis, filling vital slots in our schedule. They are trained to provide informal interpretation and answer questions, and also help with snowshoe walks, usually by serving as a "sweeper" at the back of the line to keep the group together and assist anyone who falls behind. These positions are limited to a few people with previous experience, and all such slots are filled for this year. If you’re interested in participating in the future, stop by the Visitor Center and chat with our staff to let us know!

John McCarthy, Snow Rover
Photo by Ed Hunds
Our third group of volunteers are Snow Rovers, who are roughly analogous to summer Meadow Rovers. But whereas the primary duty of Meadow Rovers is to protect fragile subalpine meadows, the primary job of Snow Rovers is to promote visitor safety. Snow Rovers patrol areas close to the trailheads – including the trailheads and parking lots themselves – assisting visitors with information about where to go and how to get there and back safely. Like the Meadow Rover program, the Snow Rover program is supervised by Mount Rainier’s volunteer program manager, Kevin Bacher, and his staff. Maureen McLean will be on duty on Saturdays from December 14 through January 4, and after that, a winter intern (yet to be hired) will take over the role.

It is important to stress that Nordic Patrol, Winter Interpreters, Snow Rovers, and Meadow Rovers are each different volunteer positions, and each requires a separate volunteer agreement. If you are already signed up as a Meadow Rover, for example, you are not automatically also a Snow Rover. The duties and priorities are different, and if you have registered as a Meadow Rover or were a Snow Rover last year but haven’t yet signed paperwork as a Snow Rover this year, you are not authorized to do the work. If you’re interested in participating, contact us and make arrangements to sign up.

How to Be a Snow Rover
If you want to serve with Nordic Patrol, you’ll work directly with the Washington Ski Touring Club. If you’re a Winter Interpreter, then you’ve already been contacted and scheduled by our interpretive staff. If you’re interested in becoming a Snow Rover, then you’ll be working with me. Here is a quick summary of how that works:
  1. Sign up. As mentioned above, if you have not signed a volunteer agreement specifically for Snow Roving this year, you must do so before venturing out on the snow. Snow Roving is different than Meadow Roving.
  2. Attend training. If possible, join us on Saturday, December 14 for our winter volunteer orientation. See below for details.
  3. Choose when to come and where to go. Our greatest need is on weekends at Paradise, especially when the weather is good, followed by Fridays. Weekday roving is less important, but welcomed in the Longmire area.
  4. Let us know you’re coming. Snow Rovers MUST check in ahead of time so that we can make sure enough radios and other resources are available for you. Let us know if you plan to ride our employee shuttle, which is an option if space is available and you plan on being here all day. The shuttle leaves Longmire at 9:00 am on weekends and holidays, weather permitting, and departs Paradise at 4:45 pm. Also let us know if you’d like to spend the night in the volunteer apartment at Park Headquarters, which has two bedrooms and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Since multiple people will be supervising the program over the course of the winter, the best way to RSVP is by writing to the Meadow Rover mailbox at MORA_Meadow_Rovers@nps.gov. Please don’t wait until the day before to RSVP, and please give us at least a two-day lead when requesting the apartment.
  5. Call ahead to check conditions. Current road and weather information is available by calling 360-569-2211 and listening to the recorded message. This includes an estimate on when (or if) the road to Paradise will open, and whether chains or 4WD will be required. Note that state law requires you to carry tire chains in your vehicle during the winter, even if current road conditions do not require putting them on.
  6. Check in when you get here. Snow Rovers must check in in person when they arrive, either at the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise (open weekends and holidays) or at the Longmire Information Center (open seven days a week). Our rangers will give you current information on weather, avalanche, and trail conditions, and may ask you to help with specific tasks such as resetting the poles marking trails, or checking on trail conditions in a certain area.
  7. Check out a radio. Safety is your highest priority – for both you and the visitors we serve! No one should be out on the trail without a radio and knowledge of how to use it, especially in the winter (in addition to the rest of the 10 Essentials).
  8. Be safe!
  9. Check back in when you return. Check your radio back in, report anything relevant, and log your hours and visitor contacts in the volunteer notebook. If the notebook is not available, send your hours via e-mail to MORA_Meadow_Rovers@nps.gov when you get home.

Winter Operations Training
If possible, plan to join us on Saturday, December 14, 2013 from 9:00-4:00 for Winter Operations Training. We’ll meet at the Community Building at Longmire and, weather permitting, move up to Paradise in the afternoon. Details of the agenda are still being worked out, but topics will include safety, logistics, and emergency response. This training is highly recommended if you plan to participate as either a Snow Rover or Winter Interpreter, and is also an excellent opportunity to update your paperwork if necessary.

5-Minute Presentations Are Needed! We will begin the Winter Operations Training with a series of brief presentation on winter safety topics, such as the 10 Essentials, preventing falls, snow shoveling, hypothermia, dehydration, frostbite, winter driving, cold and flu prevention, etc. If you would like to put together a 5-minute presentation on one of these topics, or something similar, please let us know when you RSVP, and we’ll put you into the schedule!

Please RSVP to MORA_Meadow_Rovers@nps.gov so that we’re sure to have plenty of chairs and snacks. Use the same e-mail address if you have questions. See you there, and we look forward to working with you this winter!

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