A Day on the Slopes at Hockley Valley

Photographer James MacDonald visited Hockley Valley Resort, shadowing the patrollers who keep skiers safe.

November 22, 2017 | | Leisure

I spent most of the day with Neil O’Donnell and George Gunn, ski patrol veterans with decades of experience at Hockley and other ski resorts.

George is one of the head patrollers and does a lot of the training and skill development with the other ski patrollers.

In my first few minutes with him, I mentioned I thought things might be a little slow because it was a weekday. With a bit of a grin, he replied, “Slow? We have three schools here today. Give it time; it’ll be busy. Trust me.” His years of experience were clearly showing through.

Neil O’Donnell checks in with a young skier. Photo by James MacDonald.

Neil O’Donnell checks in with a young skier. Photo by James MacDonald.

Our first call came midmorning. Neil, who turns 80 this winter, went off to respond, while George wrestled the toboggan out of the patrol hut. Both moved and reacted quickly and efficiently, skiing like the seasoned vets they are.

We met the injured boy near the second of the two chairlifts. He had taken a bad fall and hurt his shoulder. The initial call made the injury sound like a slight bump or bruise, but judging by the boy’s cries and moans, it was much more severe.

The lift operator was the first to help, and he did an amazing job. In about five minutes, the boy was bundled onto the toboggan and on his way to the lower patrol hut and first aid centre. There, they treated the shoulder injury as either a break or a dislocation. Only X-rays would tell for sure, so they sent him off in an ambulance.

We cruised the hill for a few laps and watched as the area filled with more and more schoolkids.

Our second call came in the early afternoon, just as the patrollers were sitting down to coffee. An audibly urgent voice on the radio reported a young girl had face-planted – very hard and very fast – beside the chairlift.

Patroller Nicole Downie set out with the toboggan, with Neil and George not far behind. We arrived at the chairlift, where one of the lift operators was again the first on the scene and doing a great job with the girl, who was pretty dazed.

The patrollers set about assessing and stabilizing her before moving her to the first aid centre. There was blood across her face and neck and back pain were a concern.

By the time I arrived at the first aid hut, the girl had been stabilized, but she had a headache, a primary symptom of a concussion. Playing it safe, the patrollers called Dufferin County EMS. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics stabilized the girl’s neck and transported her to Headwaters Health Care Centre.

Patroller George Gunn quickly secured a boy injured at the chairlift onto the rescue toboggan. Photo by James MacDonald.

Patroller George Gunn quickly secured a boy injured at the chairlift onto the rescue toboggan. Photo by James MacDonald.

What impressed me the most was that all the patrollers were as cool as could be, as they should be. The ease with which they worked together spoke to the excellence of their training and their experience.

About the Author More by James MacDonald

James MacDonald is a freelance photographer, cinematographer and writer who divides his time between Caledon and Toronto.

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The patrollers put their experience into action when a young skier was injured during a school outing. Photo by James MacDonald.

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