By Jeff Martin

Victim Pam Hennel sat calmly on the table while the two men moved busily around her, unfolding the small portable splint and fitting it slowly on her leg.

“Does it attach here?” Dave Herrig asked, pausing for a moment.

John Fitzpatrick looked on and considered; the splint, after all, was a new device brought to the annual refresher course for the Allegany State Park Nordic Patrol. Once examined for a few moments, patrol members eventually figured out the device and moved on to the next exercise.

Meant to introduce new life saving concepts to patrol members, as well as review traditional skills, the annual refresher course at the state park is meant to strengthen an already strong patrol. With 21 active members, the Allegany Nordic Patrol is currently in its 10th year of operation.

Joe “Butch” MacQueen, a co-founder of the group, said that while the patrol maintains a regular presence throughout the park, many visitors don›t even realize the group exists.

“A lot of people don›t realize we›re here,” MacQueen said. “They don’t realize the resource they have.”

With approximately 20 miles of groomed cross-country trails, Allegany State Park offers some of the most challenging and remote trails in Western New York. Considered by many as the first area to offer slopes and trails, ASP, as the park is commonly referred, is a skiers’ destination, a resort. Consequently, it’s where accidents happen.

MacQueen said the patrol typically responds to under five incidents per season; most are minor accidents involving skiers who suffer from exhaustion or sprained ankles. Every so often, a skier will break his/her ankle or get lost. Such emergencies are standard.

But what makes the park unique, and thus makes the patrol unique, is the near-wilderness atmosphere. Unlike many parks, ASP boasts trails that deliver skiers into some remote locations.

“The patrol we have here is the kind of patrol that used to exist all over,” MacQueen said. “Skiers didn’t have resorts or communities surrounding where they skied. Fishermen, hunters, campers – they used to ski in the wilderness, and that’s what it’s like here.”

To address such challenges, the patrol trains members in not only general cross-country, or Nordic, rescue but also in wilderness survival. Learning such skills, MacQueen said, can be the difference between life and death.

“There could be a scenario where someone needs rescued and additional help could be hours, maybe days, away,” he said.

Outside the training cabin, Gary Maslanka led a group of four patrol members around the snowy property, instructing them on how to use a compass properly. He asked where a specific and well-known summit was from where they stood and let the patrolmen find it using only their compass.

“It isn’t as easy as it looks,” Maslanka said.

One patrolman quipped that he wished he could just use his GPS, but he understood the patrol›s reliance on basic, perhaps even primitive, equipment. Unlike downhill slopes, which are typically populated with hundreds of other skiers and near rescue stations and amenities, Nordic patrol requires a level of self-sufficiency that can be considered brutal.

“We have to hump our equipment to the emergency site,” MacQueen said. “That’s different from alpine patrol because they typically have their resources right at their fingertips, or at least the means close by.”

Skills in extreme Nordic rescue are offered at the ASP patrol, which includes shelter building, low-angle and rope and pulley rescue. Learning the skills takes time, MacQueen said, which is often why prospective volunteers pass on becoming part of the patrol.

“You have to put a lot of hours into training,” MacQueen said, adding that, on average, training takes over 100 hours to become certified.

Because of that, more volunteers are needed.

The patrol helps with more than Nordic rescue; it assists with sled riding and automobile accidents, two types of incidents that happen regularly at the park. The patrol maintains a regular presence on the trails during busy times and weekends, as well as during the week.

For MacQueen, the call to serve continues to be very strong for him and the team.

“If you›re committed to it, you do it cause you love it,” he said.

For more information about the group, visit

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