You cannot have missed skiers in bright reflective jackets on the slopes in the resort of Jasná - Nízke Tatry who ski all day long. They are no road menders on holiday or anything like that. In Slovakia, ski patrols are still unique but in Jasná - Nízke Tatry, they count among standard services. The first episode of our series about the staff in the resort of Jasná - Nízke Tatry has introduced Martin, who is responsible for grooming and safety of ski pistes on the southern side of Mt. Chopok. Today, we have spent our day with a group of men who are proud to wear reflective jackets with ski patrol badges. What does this name symbolise?
The phenomenon which is quite frequent in ski resorts abroad is becoming common also in Slovakia. At present, there are active ski patrols in the resorts of Jasná Nízke Tatry and Tatranská Lomnica. They ensure safety of clients, check the safety and conditions on ski pistes, help the clients find their bearings, organise queues at lower cableway stations, solve everyday problems and do much more. Their job covers a lot.
What does the beginning of a regular working day of ski patrols look like?
It is similar to most of the other staff in the resort. Before the official opening in the morning, they set out for ski pistes to check their conditions, mark dangerous areas, remove stones that could damage client´s skis or cause various collisions, monitor markings and locations where problems might occur. As for the resort of Jasná - Nízke Tatry, there are 10 to 12 ski patrol members on average on both sides of Mt. Chopok every day and as they are responsible for over 50 km of ski pistes, they have their hands full all day long. However, it is not only about skiing around the resort. Every ski patrol member has a zone they are responsible for. While skiing down, they monitor the quality of ski pistes and check if the Rules on the slopes (the so called White code) and the Resort rules are respected. It is mainly the White code that they point client´s attention to. There are two ski touring tracks of different levels of difficulty on both sides of Mt. Chopok, which is rather unique because the problem of ski touring is not solved in most Slovak ski resorts. The ski patrol monitors if rules of safety ski touring are respected and if ski tourers use only designated tracks to walk up the hill. This is very important because it helps avoid collisions with regular skiers. Information centres offer small cards with a map and marked ski touring tracks as well as rules of safe ski touring. They have a hard row to hoe, that is true.
"What are the most frequent violations of the Rules on the slopes, which resort visitors are usually not aware of?"
It is mainly disrespecting other resort visitors and not adapting the speed to one´s personal skills and terrain conditions, which is a big problem mainly in busy periods. These issues are covered by the first four items of the Rules on the slopes – how to ski, at which speed, how to overtake etc. You may think that all this is clear but you would be surprised how many people do not know about these rules. Another violation is related to snowboarders who often sit behind terrain waves or in the middle of ski pistes. Such situations are very dangerous and can result in unpleasant injuries. The “see and be seen” rule applies here as well. The ski patrol members told us many interesting stories. How people ignore their instructions and marking on ski pistes, mainly closures, and risk not only their health but also the health of rescuers. Skiers and snowboarders sometimes even crash into visibly marked ski patrol members. Or they pretend not to see or understand them.
"Once I was standing in front of the entrance of a closed and marked ski piste but got hit by a skier anyway,” says Andrej.
Skiing on pistes after the official end of the resort operation is another big problem.
This happens mainly at the end of the season when the days are longer and ski tourers set out for the slopes from the Kamenná chalet late. It is very dangerous as ski groomers work on the pistes at the time and they are often fixed to the slopes by cables. It is not rare to meet heroes who drink ten shots of gentian brandy and then proudly claim: “I can see those ropes! I have been ski touring for three years already.” Andrej has told us one more amusing story. “The Kamenná chalet, a loud party, attractive ladies. The weather has changed, there was fog, strong wind. The ladies underestimated their consumer abilities and sense of orientation. We had to accompany them on the way down. Finally, they thanked us and were happy we had been there and could help them get down safely.”
People should keep in mind that the Rules on the slopes and the Resort rules are meant mainly to protect the health and property of resort visitors. Nobody wants to get insured while skiing or to have their equipment damaged. There is also one more important thing – the ski patrol is not the police or any other repressive body. It should mainly help clients, make their time in the mountains more pleasant and less complicated. The ski patrol is there for your safety and comfort. But if the rules are violated seriously, the patrol is entitled to block one´s ski pass and order the respective violator to leave the resort based on the general terms and conditions. The ski patrol combines several bodies in the resort. Its members communicate with the Mountain rescue service as well as the ski groomer and cableway staff, the information centre and other facilities in the resort. They can solve various problems flexibly.