Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mount Rainier's Nordic Patrol

In case you didn't know, Paradise at Mount Rainier National Park is one of the snowiest places on the planet.  When the snow falls in the accurately named Paradise, droves of snowshoers, skiers, and sledders flock to those subalpine meadows with the hope of filling their afternoon with winter fun and excitement.

With more and more people visiting America's National Parks every year, the need for volunteers is ever-growing.  One of our core group of volunteers each and every winter is the Nordic Patrol crew.  They are out every weekend marking the routes that we know and love, providing preventative search and rescue, and making contacts with countless visitors enjoying the backcountry on any given day, all while enjoying the sublime grandeur of some of the lesser traveled areas of the park during the winter.

Sound pretty awesome to you?  Well, you are right.  It is pretty awesome.  BUT WAIT!  You can also be a part of this great group of volunteers this winter and for many snowy winters to come!  Here is a brief summary of the group and an excerpt from the position description, as provided by Wilderness Ranger and Nordic Patrol Supervisor, Jeff Gardner:

Scope of Work - Nordic volunteers will work independently or with NPS Rangers during weekends throughout the winter use season, and as available during the Christmas holiday period. Nordic Patrol volunteers will perform day patrols of routes primarily in the Paradise and Tatoosh areas. Occasional trips may be scheduled for other destinations, such as the westside road. Patrols will center around visitor contacts with emphasis on providing information to skiers, snowboarders, showshoers and winter campers; preventative search and rescue; avalanche safety and resource protection (i.e. minimum impact winter camping and compliance with park regulations). Nordic volunteers will place and maintain ski trail signs and markers on selected ski trails in the Paradise area. As needed, volunteers will monitor group winter camping activities in the immediate Paradise area as well as check other parties camped in more remote areas.

Safety - Nordic volunteers will be required to patrol as two person teams at a minimum. Participation in a patrol risk management session before patrols. If you don’t agree with an assignment you can request a different route/duty for the day. Patrollers will be required to have the necessary avalanche response gear to provide assistance to their own party or park visitors (avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel). Without avalanche equipment, patrollers won't be able to ski near avalanche terrain. The NPS will work with Nordic Patrol to offer training opportunities throughout the year to improve patrollers' skill levels (Avy Awareness, EMS CE's, litter training).

Equipment - Volunteers will be issued NPS radios and will serve as a communication link in reporting ski and avalanche conditions, backcountry emergencies, and potential violations of park regulations (e.g. dog in the backcountry). Patrollers are expected to have the proper equipment and food to stay out overnight should they be injured or unable to make it back to the pick-up point by dark. The patrollers will not be required to carry additional gear for an injured visitor. This will be solved by a hasty team bringing additional overnight supplies and medical equipment to handle the injury.

Search and Rescue - Within their level of training and certification, volunteers may assist rangers and other rescue personnel on medical and SAR emergencies. In order to improve the ability of the NPS and Nordic Patrol to respond to emergencies, a new system has been established to improve communications between both parties. Nordic Patrol will need to review EMS and SAR training of its members and place each member into the following SAR categories.

           - PSAR – preventative SAR with expectations of contacting visitors and educating them about the dangers while they are out.

           - Searchers – have the fitness, desire and ability (skills, training, and experience) to assist NPS Rangers with searching for lost visitors throughout the Paradise or Tatoosh area. These patrollers may not have the fitness or desire to actually extricate the lost visitor, but can search.

           - Rescuers – have the fitness, desire and ability (skills, training, and experience) to assist NPS Rangers with searching for lost visitors throughout the Paradise or Tatoosh area. These patrollers also want to assist with the extrication by a litter or staying out overnight with a lost visitor. The NPS will work to collect documentation of SAR skills to ensure we are not asking too much of volunteers.

If this sounds like exactly what you would like to do with your winter, then  contact Jeff Gardner today!  He can be reached by e-mail at

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