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Ski Patrol exchange thrives  

By Justin Jenvey

Posted 24 September 2019

The end of snow season means Hotham Ski Patrol will soon bid farewell to another of its American colleagues after a winter spent here on exchange.  

For 21 consecutive years now Hotham has welcomed a patroller from Keystone Resort in Colorado. 

The exchange program first took place in 1984 with Keystone’s Alec Ireland headed down under to work the season at Hotham before Rob Begg travelled to the States two northern winters later.

Three decades of exchange

From the outset the program benefited both ski patrols, but particularly Hotham early on.

“One of the first things bought back by one of our patrollers was a lot of the radio calls,” Hotham Ski Patrol director Bill Barker said.

“Along with introducing the same ten-codes we had the first cascade rescue toboggans in Australia, which replaced the European akia-style ones and were a better tool for the terrain we have here.

“Keystone being a much bigger resort and ski patrol they have specialists in different areas, so when they come here or we go there they’ve introduced us to a lot of different skills and knowledge.”

Despite the odd exchange with other resorts including Big Sky and Morrillon in France, the Hotham/Keystone partnership has been going strong for the best part of 35 years.

“Because it has been going so long a big part of it is just sharing best practice, tweaking things and making suggestions to each other, saying this is how we do it maybe this will work, Bill said.

“People learn a lot from going this way or that, it’s a really good program and the beauty of it is you don’t have to be under 30 to get the visa because you head across on an exchange visa.”

Different scenarios 

Hannah Reid is the latest Keystone patroller to spend the winter at Hotham and the 27 year-old said it has been a totally new experience that has included working in rain and fog for the first time.

“I’ve loved it, I had never been out of the United States before so to experience how another patrol operates, not only in a different country but a different hemisphere, has been great,” she said.

“I’ve learnt different medical protocols but the thing that stands out is the teamwork that goes on between ski patrol and other mountain staff particularly during rope rescues.

“That’s something I had never done before and seeing so many people come together to undertake a rope rescue to get somebody to safety has been really cool.”

Although, Hannah wasn’t the only Keystone patroller here for the season as 2018 exchanger Connor Greene returned for a second stint, this time on a working visa.

Bill Barker said Connor enjoyed his exchange at Hotham immensely and was open to coming back so when offered the chance to complete a second season he had no hesitation in accepting.

“Connor’s been a really good asset for us, as one of the snowmobile team’s most experienced riders and trainers there at Keystone he’s been able to pass on some of his knowledge and expertise here,” Bill said.

Potential for more support

With the exchange program between the two resorts continuing to thrive, Bill said there is a possibility of growing the relationship even more in the future.

“As Hotham grows and our visitation grows, we’re looking at ways of potentially employing some of the Keystone patrollers for shorter stints,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be an exchange but more getting some patrollers here on working visas for a couple of months to help us out in the busy times during peak season.

“Keystone’s selection criteria for who comes out is very stringent, they will only send patrollers that are really good and will represent Keystone really well.

“The patrollers they’ve sent us over the years have been great and their training fantastic.

“It’s a different cultural experience for them and good for us to have some different personalities and a bit of fresh blood, so we’ll continue to be strong supporters of the program.”

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I’ve learnt different medical protocols but the thing that stands out is the teamwork that goes on between ski patrol and other mountain staff particularly during rope rescues.

Hannah Reid