Ski patrollers have plenty of pent up energy after two tough seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, so where better to let off steam than Aspen Highlands?
The Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol will host the 50th Colorado Pro Patrol Convention with registration and a party Tuesday night and lots of fun and games Wednesday.
The event typically draws between 100 and 200 ski patrollers from Colorado and a handful of other states. This year, about 300 patrollers are expected, said Mike Tierney, a 40-year veteran of the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol and event chair.
“There are 30 different mountains that send patrol boats,” he said.
The event is of particular interest this year as it has not taken place for two seasons due to COVID-19 protocols. Additionally, Highlands is a popular destination.
“The Highland Ski Patrol is throwing one hell of a party,” Tierney said. “It’s kind of our version of closing day.”
The Highland Patrol hosted the event in 1984, 2005 and 2015. The 1984 event was particularly memorable as patrollers Chris Kessler, Tom Snyder and Craig Soddy were killed by an avalanche while working at Highland Bowl .
“The boys were in the Bowl getting ready for the party,” Tierney said.
Although devastated by the deaths of their friends and colleagues, the ski patrol decided to stick to the plan and hold the professional patrol convention four days later. It helped to mourn with their siblings from other stations, Tierney said. It made for a memorable moment.
“That was back when we were jumping the bridge,” Tierney said.
In addition to fun competitions and parties, the convention is a time to remember members of the Colorado Ski Patrols who have passed away. He estimated he had attended around 30 events over the years with fellow Highlanders.
“The camaraderie between the patrollers is second to none,” said Tierney. They are used to high-intensity work situations, “but we know how to let go and have fun”.
Since the inaugural event in 1972, conventions have always included a giant slalom and a luge race. GS participants usually wear costumes. Patrollers also prove their mettle by negotiating a slide through an obstacle course. Both races will take place on the Grand Prix track (near the Cloud Nine lift). The public is invited to attend events outside the fenced routes.
The Highland Patrol adds its special touch to the event with a contest to throw bamboo from a chairlift, a poker race with hidden cards at sites around the mountain, a beacon finding contest and a relay event three-member tag team in Highland Bowl.
The full range and details can be found at http://www.highlandspropatrol.com.
The ski patrol that performs the best in the various events wins a coveted team trophy that Tierney says has been damaged over the years, but still holds plenty of beer.
“It’s like the Stanley Cup,” he said.
In addition to parties at various times throughout the day in the Bowl run-out, Cloud 9 Bistro and the Ale House at the base in the Highlands, the party will move to Belly Up on Wednesday night with a performance by the band Atomga.
The Pro Patrol convention is in jeopardy because many resort operators won’t allow their patrols to host it, Tierney said. He wouldn’t name names. He thanked Aspen Skiing Co. for keeping the fun going, and he said many local businesses have contributed as sponsors, which is essential to making the event work.
“Some say it could be the last,” Tierney said. “I hope not. If so, it’s going to go out with a bang.