Tracy Christensen, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue
NSP:When did you become a patroller, and what led you to start patrolling?
Tracy: I became a ski patroller in 1990. Before joining ski patrol, I worked as a lift operator. Watching patrollers load the lifts, from first chair to last chair, inspired me to join ski patrol because I was inspired by the camaraderie and passion they shared. I wanted to be part of this group of professionals who worked on the mountain, from early morning snow control to emergency medical responses.
NSP: What did you find most challenging about patroller training prior to becoming a patroller?
Tracy: My most important and greatest challenge was gaining the trust and confidence of my fellow ski patrol members. To achieve this, I volunteered for a season and participated in the required training needed to be a ski patroller. After spending a season volunteering and training, I was offered a full-time position. My director was straightforward with his expectations and helped me set my ski patrol training goals. I still remember my first OEC course and my first avalanche rescue course with the National Ski Patrol. The skills I learned and developed through ski patrol I use daily and have been instrumental.
NSP: How many cups of coffee do you drink during a patrol shift?
Tracy: The coffee culture runs deep on my patrol; from the first chair to the last chair, it's a way of life for me. I'm also proud to say that we have an espresso machine in every ski patrol station. The espresso machines are always on and ready to brew. So how many do I drink during a shift? Well, I have a saying: 10 before 10. That's 10 espressos before 10 a.m., and that's how I like to get things going on a good day!
NSP: Powder or groomers?
Tracy: Powder, but we all know that powder mornings never come deep enough or often enough!
NSP: What have you learned the most about yourself from patrolling?
Tracy: Being a ski patroller has given me self-confidence. We often find ourselves in difficult and stressful situations, but knowing that you have the skills and training to reassure your decisions is encouraging.
NSP: What do you find most rewarding about patrolling and being a member of the National Ski Patrol?
Tracy: The most rewarding part of being a member of the National Ski Patrol is my love for skiing, the mountains, and being part of an organization that makes a difference. It is exciting to work with others who share my same passion for skiing and the mountains. The most rewarding moments can be as simple as helping someone get up after a fall or being there when a complicated rescue is needed that requires your patrol skills and expertise. It's a great feeling at the end of a day, knowing you were able to help someone, no matter how big or small it was.
NSP: As the president of the prestigious Wasatch Backcountry Rescue School in Utah, can you briefly tell us about WBR?
Tracy: Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working in the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City under the direction of the five Wasatch Front county sheriff's search and rescue divisions. The counties include Salt Lake, Summit, Weber, Wasatch, and Utah. WBR has the highest level of standards for its members and has been instrumental in bringing innovative rescue technologies to both the national and international scene.
Our primary purpose is the rapid response for avalanche rescue, winter-related mountain rescue, and medical evacuation incidents using trained professionals and search and rescue dogs. WBR personnel are full-time avalanche professionals from member organizations who are familiar with the local terrain, snowpack, and current conditions. This makes WBR the resource of choice for initial response to winter accidents in the Wasatch Range's vast and heavily used backcountry.
Our secondary purpose is to educate local backcountry users in safe techniques for mountain travel plus the equipment and methods used for self-rescue in case of any incident. Members of WBR include teams from professional mountain patrols and emergency care providers: Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, Brighton, Snowbasin, Park City Mountain, Deer Valley, Powder Mountain, Sundance Ski Resort, and the Utah Department of Transportation. The Wasatch Backcountry Rescue group is also a voting member of the International Commission of Alpine Rescue (ICAR).
WBR is dedicated to saving the life of the avalanche victim through training, professional response, and education. For more information visit wbrescue.org.