By Deb Everts

Members of the Allegany State Park Nordic Ski Patrol completed their On-the-Hill Refresher winter training Feb. 1.

The band of hardy volunteers monitor the cross country ski and mountain biking trails of Allegany State Park’s Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area keeping people safe and rescuing them in times of need.

Led by Patrol Director Mary MacQueen, these dedicated people train at two mandatory refreshers each year to keep their skills sharp and be ready for an emergency. The Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) Refresher takes place in the fall and the On-the-Hill Refresher is held this time of year at the Summit Warming Hut by the Art Roscoe trails and the surrounding wooded area. 

Training Officer Butch MacQueen said the one-day training event is basically outdoor skills called Mountain Travel and Rescue (MTR) used by the National Ski Patrol for this training. It revolves around all the skills the patrollers are required to know to give emergency care.

The training gives them a chance to fine-tune their ski skills; practice land navigation, mapping and compass work, as well as build a fire and emergency shelter onsite and how to form a line and go through the woods looking for people who are lost.

“One of the things we do is to create an emergency sled that we refer to as a Mission Ridge Sled,” he said. “It’s made out of a plastic tarp, the injured skier’s skis and various ropes and lashings. We use it to tow a person out of the woods.” 

MacQueen said the emergency sled is kind of a “last ditch” effort because the park gives the ski patrol access to a snowmobile for training every year, so all the members know how to operate a snowmobile safely. They also have a fiberglass toboggan they use to get back into the woods to get a person out. He said they train for an emergency and do it all by hand, in case the snowmobile doesn’t run or it’s not available for some reason.

“The park police have been more than cooperative with us for everything we do,” he said. “Right now, they have a tracked rescue vehicle that’s like an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) on cleated tracks. It has a rescue trailer that will hold a Stokes litter (stretcher) for the injured person. It’s a very efficient way to get them out of the woods.” 

Last year, the ski patrol coordinated with park police and members of the Seneca Fire Allegany Territory who brought their ambulance for the training. Due to poor weather conditions, Mercy Flight was not able to assist.

“This year, we did not coordinate with the other agencies for our training,” MacQueen said. “We normally run a training involving other agencies about every third year because it requires a great deal of effort and energy, as well as cost, to involve the large group of individuals.”  

THE MacQUEENS started the Allegany State Park Nordic Ski Patrol in 2002 after they saw the need a few years prior its founding. Butch said a woman fell on one of the trails and laid in the snow for about two hours before anybody found her, and it was another two hours before any help could get to her.

“At that point in time, nobody was actually trained for rescuing anyone in the woods on the trails. It was simply up to the volunteer firemen from the city of Salamanca or the Seneca Nation,” he said. “They were not trained or set up and ready to go on a rescue in the woods like that. Since then, things have refined a great deal.”

The ski patrol currently has 17 members on the roster. MacQueen said four of the five original patrol members are still active. He said their group is the only Nordic Ski Patrol in the Western New York Region, which is one of 13 regions in the eastern division.

MacQueen said the ski patrol is looking for more members, but extensive first aid training and proficiency on skis is required.

“A lot of our candidates come from Alpine patrols, so they already have the required first aid training,” he said. “All they have to do is the skiing part throughout the first season to be able to get around proficiently on their skis. At the end of the season, there are certain skills they have to be able to do.” 

MacQueen said, as members of the National Ski Patrol, they have to go through an annual refresher that involves a total of 30 hours of work every year. He said they do about a third of the first aid course called Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC), which is very similar to an emergency medical technician (EMT) course that runs 100 hours.

Although everything is included in the course, they specialize in cold weather injuries that are looked at primarily from a skiing and snowmobiling standpoint. 

The National Ski Patrol has about 30,000 members across the United States. There are also European divisions, as well as other divisions around the world. 

MacQueen has been a member of the National Ski Patrol for 42 years and he’s in his 34th year on the Alpine Patrol at HoliMont Ski Resort. Both he and Mary MacQueen are two of the 11 Nordic Masters within the National Ski Patrol. She was chosen as the National Outstanding Nordic Patroller for 2018. She works as a deputy for the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office. 

If anyone is interested in joining the ASP Nordic Ski Patrol, they should contact either Butch MacQueen at butchmacqueen@gmail.com and (814) 730-9440 or Mary MacQueen at nitrogoldens@yahoo.com and (716) 378-7742. For more information, visit the National Ski Patrol website at nsp.org.