Lost and found a ski patrollers tale | AspenTimes.com

Lost and found a ski patrollers tale

Contributed photoTad Hemp at the Aspen Ski Patrol bulletin board where his ski patrol badge hung for 15 years.

Our first trip to Aspen was in 1971. Our first accommodations were in the subterranean units with Dale Paas at the Limelite. I recall the night we left I shook my fist at the mountain and yelled, We will be back! And back we have been uncountable times. Days prior to our leaving for Aspen this year I dug out my old but trusty dont forget to take list. Neck scarf, no, pass. Wine skin, no, pass. Ski patrol badge, no, pass. Hmmm I wonder where that old badge is? Havent seen it in a while. You might ask, what is a ski patrol badge? Aside from the larger ski mountains in the U.S., most small hills/mountains in the country are protected by a large volunteer organization, established in 1938, called the National Ski Patrol (NSP). To become a member a prospective patroller must undergo an extensive season-long training program. The program consists of first aid training equivalent to an EMT program, toboggan handling, and even avalanche control including search poling. The latter exercise is always snickered at since our hills in the Midwest are mostly dinky. My home hill, which I patrolled for 23 years, was Little Switzerland, located in Slinger, Wis. Vertical stats were 260 feet of vertical, which was measured from the top of the flag pole to the bottom of the well. After all training is completed and tests passed, the new patroller is awarded a small blue and gold, 1 1/ 2- inch diameter badge. This badge contains the name National Ski Patrol and is engraved with the patrollers name. The badge is worn on the sweater, dead center over the sternum, and under the jacket. My badge was engraved with TAD HEMP. I considered my badge a highly prized possession. Although the NSP has no active connection to the big mountain professional patrollers and there are no walk-on privileges, it was always a tradition to carry and wear the NSP badge while away from the home mountain. Lets now fast forward a few days to Aspen Mountain and a beautifully clear day in March 2009. Dont tell my friends: We were on Silver Dip, considered the bunny hill of Ajax. I did have a good excuse since this was my first run after having full knee replacement surgery a few months prior. Hope my doctor does not read this article. The run was absolutely empty except for my daughter Rory and me. The last thing I recall was experiencing the self admiration to which all skiers are prone; the next was waking up to the largest gaggle of patrollers I have seen since the good old days of after-shift long neck gatherings. It was explained to me later I had been the victim of a boarder coming off a side trail going flat out, facing uphill, who had hit me on his blind side. The collision, an ultimate cage rattler, was graded as only a 9 1/ 2 because one trusty Volkl failed to release. Twenty-plus minutes later, after the yard sale had been reassembled, the patrolman in charge started taking vital statistics. After giving my name, Tad Hemp, the usual slight smile broke out, except this time it was different. As you might guess, my last name always creates anything from a broad grin to rollicking laughter. The ski patroller, Jim Hearn (Gorp), then said, I know you. My natural reply, Hows that? His reply, I found your ski patrol badge on this mountain 15 years ago. Huh? Next question: Do you still have it? Answer: Yes. It has been hanging on the patrol room bulletin board for 15 years. Again, Huh? Absolute disbelief. A major player in this story was Michael Henderson from Aspen. Yes, you guessed it, the snowboarder and gentleman who stuck around for the full count. If it werent for this accident, who knows? I might not have found my badge for another 15 years. No animosity, Michael. Thanks to the gentleman who witnessed this accident from the gondola, skied down, and stayed until all was stabilized. And thanks, Gorp, for taking such good care of my badge all those years. One patrolman even asked as I was leaving the patrol room, Cant you please leave the badge and just stop back and visit it once in a while?

Marly (Tad) Hemp, NSP Badge No. CO64 00118 (retired) is a resident of Brookfield, Wis.Editors note: If you have an unusual story to tell, and can accompany it with some photos, e-mail Community Editor Naomi Havlen at nhavlen@aspentimes.com. She loves this stuff.

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