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Mt. Bachelor Ski Patrol: Up Early to Make it Safe


A 9 a.m. lift opening at Mt. Bachelor may make for an early morning for some Central Oregonians, but for 28 professional ski patrollers, 7:45 is when they are usually headed up the mountain.

“Being able to get things going by 9 is the ultimate goal.” said Bob Spittler, assistant ski patrol manager. “Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t — safety is key.”

The severity of a storm determines when some are called to work.

“Unfortunately, I don’t always get to choose when I wake up,” said John Millslagle, snow safety supervisor on the mountain. “Grooming called at 5 a.m. this morning.”

On Tuesday, patrollers worked to clear the west side of the mountain.

After being closed for a day, the Northwest Express had nearly two feet of snow piled on the runs.

In teams of two, they start at the top of the Northwest Express lift and work their way to the bottom, checking for avalanche danger, downed trees and any other hazards.

“When we know we are going to get a clearing the day before,” Spittler said, “we’ll bring in people early to go up and try and get it open.”

But after a big storm, when the winds calm, is when the fun really begins.

“I love being out early in the morning watching the sunrise,” said Millslagle, “Even more fun, if you can use explosives while doing your work.”

In 2009, the mountain purchased an Avalauncher to fire explosives at the moraine above the Skyliner Express chair.

“We do use explosives to check for stability,” Millslagle said, “Sometimes you get to see a lot of snow move, other times you just make a big hole in the snow, shake it up — and then you get first tracks.”

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