Colorado ski patrollers ready to converge on Highlands for end-of-season convention
‘The Highlands Ski Patrol throws a hell of a party’
Ski patrollers have plenty of pent up energy after two tough seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, so where better to blow off a little steam than Aspen Highlands?
The Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol will host the 50th Colorado Pro Patrol Convention with registration and a party Tuesday night and lots of fun and games on Wednesday.
The event typically attracts between 100 and 200 ski patrollers from around Colorado and a handful from other states. This year, about 300 patrollers are expected to attend, said Mike Tierney, a 40-year veteran of the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol and event chair.
“There’s 30 different mountains sending patrollers,” he said.
The event is drawing special interest this year because it hasn’t been held for the past two seasons because of COVID-19 protocols. In addition, Highlands is a popular destination.
“The Highlands Ski Patrol throws a hell of a party,” Tierney said. “It’s kind of our version of closing day.”
The Highlands patrol hosted the event in 1984, 2005 and 2015. The 1984 event was particularly memorable because patrollers Chris Kessler, Tom Snyder and Craig Soddy were killed by an avalanche while working in Highland Bowl.
“The boys were up in the Bowl getting ready for the party,” Tierney said.
Despite being devastated by the deaths of their friends and colleagues, the ski patrol decided to stick to the plan and host the Pro Patrollers Convention four days later. It helped to grieve with their brothers and sisters from other resorts, Tierney said. It made for a memorable time.
“That was back in the day when we were jumping the deck,” Tierney said.
Along with fun competitions and partying, the convention is an opportunity to remember members of Colorado ski patrols who have passed on. He estimated he has attended roughly 30 of the events over the years with colleagues from Highlands.
“The camaraderie amongst patrollers is second to none,” Tierney said. They are used to high-intensity work situations, “but we know how to cut loose and have fun.”
Since the inaugural event in 1972, the conventions have always included a giant slalom and a toboggan race. Participants in the GS typically wear costumes. Patrollers also prove their mettle by negotiating a toboggan through an obstacle course. Both races will be held on the Grand Prix trail (near the Cloud Nine lift). The public is invited to watch events outside of the fenced off courses.
Highlands patrol is adding its special stamp to the event with a bamboo-throwing contest from a chairlift, a poker run with cards hidden at sites around the mountain, a beacon search contest and a three-member team relay event up and down Highland Bowl.
The full lineup and details can be found at http://www.highlandspropatrol.com.
The ski patrol that performs best in the various events wins a coveted team trophy that Tierney said has been banged up over the years but still holds lots of beer.
“It’s like the Stanley Cup,” he said.
In addition to parties at various points in the day in the run-out of the Bowl, at Cloud 9 Bistro and at the Ale House at the Highlands base, the party will move to Belly Up Wednesday night with a performance by the band Atomga.
The Pro Patrol Convention is endangered because many corporate resort operators won’t allow their patrols to host it, Tierney said. He wouldn’t name names. He credited Aspen Skiing Co. for letting the fun continue, and he said numerous local business have contributed as sponsors, which is vital to making the event work.
“Some say it could be the last one,” Tierney said. “I hope not. If it is, it’s going to go out with a bang.”
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