Started this season all enthusiastic, had a good training day for patrol including a demo of the Imoos chairlift evacuation system by the Glencoe boys. Also, did a training day for lift staff and felt well prepared for a bumper season!
But now as I type, I have stopped looking for snow and have given up. We have actually had eighteen days operating and in that short time had 3 ambulances and one Helicopter for a grand total of 31 casualties. I did recruit 2 new full time patrollers and they along with the rest of us have been under-utilised. Jeff fortunately has given Tim Hull some work in March. It maybe is history repeating itself as Stevie Hull’s first full time season was (I think) 2 days!
At the end of January 2017, Andy Blair and I were invited to do a Ski Patrol Clinic at Hildarfjall Akureyi in Iceland. I was told no first aid just the day to day routine and marking of runs, fortunately I can talk a lot. We arrived at Reykjavik airport to have a hire car waiting for us and after buying as much duty free as possible we set off into the Icelandic night. After much coffee and the Northern Lights flying above us we arrived at 1am. Erica met us to show us hotel (she is working there as a ski patroller for the season).
We had an easy morning as in January they open at 13.00 till 19.00 in the week and we were picked up at 10.00 to get shown about the ski area. It nestles under a large escarpment looking out over the town of Akureyri and Eyjafjorour with one 4-man chair, a moving carpet and about five other ground lifts. The Icelandic’s have a very relaxed way of operating only the moving carpet and chairlift are manned, they use Ski Data, a lot of snow cannons and a semi–automated ski hire. The snow was mix of natural and man-made with some interesting ice similar to glass lurking underneath! We were introduced to all the staff what a friendly crazy bunch and unfortunately although we were expecting about 6 patrollers from other resorts only one could make it. So, I talked through some slides to about 4 Icelandic’s and then went out on the hill to discuss and help them in marking, nets etc. A lot of the early winter is under floodlights and they have a very keen race training programme. Andy and I were invited to the office manager’s house for the Icelandic winter feast called Thorrablot which was very interesting, everything from whale blubber to horse salami. Their favourite is smoked lamb Hangikjot which takes a bit of getting used to; my favourite was cured/marinated goose which was delicious.
Saturday operating hours are 10.00 to 16.00 so we helped Erica all day culminating in an almost real time multi-agency avalanche exercise at 16.00. Andy and I as patrollers along with Erica and her colleague Ingi were first on scene and after that the ski area staff followed by the Mountain Rescue Team. It was as real an exercise I have ever attended the biggest problem Andy and I had was having no radio and not understanding Icelandic. There were 5 live casualties and 3 dead, one without a transceiver which required Recco and probing to find the dummy. Andy and I back roped Erica and Ingi with 2 of the casualties after digging assessing and packaging. It was amazing to see the MR trucks drive straight up the piste and how organised chaos the whole affair can appear. We attended the de-brief at the MR base but didn’t understand it; awaiting written report. BASP have been invited back next year and Icelandic Ski Patrol would like to become a sub-division of BASP.
Sunday, Andy and I patrolled in beautiful sunshine, assisted Erica in rescue of a wee girl who cut through a net onto icy rocks. The Icelandic people are very helpful but don’t expect things to be done for them so you felt that it was appreciated anything that Andy and I could do to help. Erica’s boss and ski area CEO was very generous paying for the car hire and accommodation, thank you Gummi. Going out to eat in Iceland is a costly business but the food is delicious but the drink very expensive.
On the Monday Erica I and Andy set off to visit Siglufjorour ski area and meet up with Vigo of Polar bear fame (one swam from Greenland and had to be put down, it now stuffed in the town museum). They opened the ski lift especially for us and we had a couple of hours skiing the hill by ourselves. Vigo had arranged for us to have a trek on some beautiful Icelandic horses, Andy had to be schooled indoors as he had only been on a horse once before but we all experienced their 5th gait the Tolt which is very comfortable. Once again, we were fed accommodated and entertained generously by Vigo, also guided by John from Dalvik.
Monday set off back to Reykjavik with the intention of doing the same talk about ski patrolling but they were sent home due to high winds so we did the tourist thing in Reykjavik and stumbled on the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport. We did not go in but Andy paddled in the outside cold white slimy pools. All in all, we had a great time exchanging knowledge and being treated to a visit to a beautiful country with generous friendly people.