If you’ve ever taken a run at Diamond Peak ski resort, chances are you’ve seen them in their bright red jackets, white cross emblazoned on the back… Patrollers.
You can usually find them hanging out in one of the Patrol bases around the mountain - all of which have cool nicknames like “Eagle’s Nest” and “Penthouse” - or out on the slopes assisting guests and serving as first-responders to any on-mountain injuries or emergency situations.
But did you know that there are actually two types of patrollers on the hill at Diamond Peak (and many other ski resorts around the country)?
So called “Pro Patrollers” are Diamond Peak employees, whereas Diamond Peak’s “Volunteer Patrollers” are volunteers who augment the Pro Patrol staff, providing additional support in all aspects of Patrol operations.
Volunteer Patrollers are all members of the National Ski Patrol (NSP), a federally-chartered 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership association dedicated to serving the outdoor recreation industry by providing education and accreditation to emergency care and safety service providers. With a primary focus on education and training, the NSP includes over 31,000 members serving 650 patrols in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia.
Here at Diamond Peak, we are incredibly fortunate to have a small-but-dedicated team of 11 Volunteer Patrollers who have repeatedly been recognized for their service, training and professionalism over the years. Many of these individuals have put in decades of service here at Diamond Peak, including one - James “Jimmy” Cheng - who is currently at 49 years of service at Diamond Peak!
Each volunteer patroller has strong relationships within their respective communities. Individual members promote skiing, the local patrol and the values of the National Ski Patrol by participating in various community groups. One member has become the Patrol Representative for the American River Bike Patrol. Other members of our Volunteer Patrol work with The United Way, The American Red Cross, St. Jude's Children's Hospital, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America; all the while promoting NSP values through contributing time and effort.
Volunteer Patrollers come from diverse backgrounds. Some bring relevant experience from their professional lives, such as the recently-retired professional firefighter and the Sacramento Metro Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member. We also have two Certified Outdoor Guides, one EMT, and one Paramedic from Washoe County. Others bring a love of the outdoors that compliments their professional life - we have an engineer, an attorney, and a Napa Valley vintner on our crew.
Everyone contributes in their own unique way to provide training and shared knowledge in outdoor mountain travel, current practices in emergency care, logical and legally accurate documentation processes and most importantly, appropriate stress relief.
Diamond Peak’s current Volunteer Patrol Representative to the NSP is a retired Fire Captain living in Visalia, California who manages to perform over 30 on-the-hill days and an untold number of administrative off-hill hours.
The average tenure of a volunteer patroller is about five years according to national averages; however, the Diamond Peak Volunteer Patrol has an average patroller tenure of 16.6 years of service. And all of the long-term patrollers have served their years at Diamond Peak.
Along with this commitment comes a depth of experience that is rarely found in other ski patrols. This experience is broad and has provided newer junior patrollers a sense of stability and support.
All of this tenure, tradition and training has resulted in incredible support to the overall Diamond Peak Patrol department, and has also won the Diamond Peak Volunteer Patrol team numerous awards over the years. Notable awards and achievements include:
- Awarded “Outstanding Small Patrol” 15 times since the 1999-2000 winter season - three of those at the national level, eight at the regional level, and four at the division level.
- Numerous awards for “Outstanding Alpine Patroller,” “Outstanding Professional Patroller,” “Outstanding Instructor,” and “Outstanding Patrol Director,” (amongst others) over the years.
Significance and Qualifications for the Outstanding Patrol Awards - Outstanding Small Alpine Patrol
This award is presented each year to the outstanding small alpine patrol of 40 or fewer members. The award recipient is selected from among nominations for outstanding contributions to the National Ski Patrol System and their Local Community. It is presented to an NSP patrol that has performed in any outstanding manner in the NSP, the snow sports industry, outdoor activities, or rescue, and when it is not possible to single out specific individuals.
Q&A with James “Jimmy” Cheng
If it seems like you’ve seen James “Jimmy” Cheng on the slopes of Diamond Peak forever, you’re not far off. January 2022 marked 49 years of service at Diamond Peak Ski Resort (aka Ski Incline back in the day) for this veteran patroller.
Jimmy was officially inducted into the Diamond Peak Pro Patrol on January 1, 1973, and transitioned to a role on the Volunteer Patrol after serving as Assistant Patrol Director through the 1977-78 winter. Jimmy currently serves as the Diamond Peak Patrol Registrar and Awards Officer, and also volunteers his time as a Patrol Leader for the American River Bike Patrol in Sacramento. Over his 49 years at Diamond Peak, Jimmy has worn many hats including:
- Professional Ski Patroller (1973-1978)
- Senior Status National Patroller (1975)
- Assistant Pro Patrol Director (1976-1978)
- National Ski Patrol, Eastern Sierra Region Section Chief (1992)
- Volunteer Patrol Leader (1995-1999, 2005-2009, 2015-2019, 2001-2010)
- Patrol Registrar & Awards Officer (2001-Present)
We caught up with Jimmy via email to learn a little more about what motivates Diamond Peak’s own Patrol Iron Man to keep serving this community and our resort:
IVGID Quarterly: Why did you first decide to join the Ski Incline Ski patrol?
Jimmy Cheng: Truth is, the Ski Incline Patrol found me. Like my contemporaries, I had my sights set on the bigger resorts. At best I was an advanced intermediate skier when I began, and I failed to qualify for the Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol. I had applied for jobs around the Tahoe Basin and finally got on the Lift Crew at Ski Incline. In 1972, I took up residence in Incline and was working to improve my skiing. The Assistant Patrol Director, Claudia Geotz learned of my interest and casually invited me to join the fledgling volunteer Patrol. Under her tutelage I grew in strength and ability. Every accomplishment was cheered and every defeat was built upon. The Patrol became my family.
Time together on and off the mountain was cherished. Within six weeks I was finally a part of something bigger than me and in a place where my efforts felt appreciated. In 1973 I returned as a paid Patroller and accelerated through the ranks of the volunteer system. Now numerous offers were being forwarded by the Heavenly, Squaw and Alpine Patrols. I skied with them and found these patrols to be large, impersonal and competitive. These Patrols were like large dysfunctional families where the children were starved of attention and the favored ones were paid staff. Paid staff were overworked and underpaid, “burnout” was common. Volunteers were neglected and relegated to small sectors of the mountain.
I never found an incentive to leave my Incline family. To the contrary, during some of the most difficult times in personal development as a young man, my Patrol family was there advising and supporting me.
IQ: What drew you to the job?
JC: We all have an internal driving force; some call it fate or destiny. Mine always seemed to be in the mountains and skiing was my passion. Ms. Helen Hogan, my high school mentor and counselor, was a Volunteer Patroller and my inspiration. I always found it rewarding to help those in need, especially in situations where my actions had an immediate impact. Before launching into a professional career (Patrollers were not paid well) I wanted to follow my passion while being of service. Patrolling was and is still the best fit.
IQ:After you dropped off the Pro Patrol, what motivated you to stay involved as a NSP member?
JC: The National ski patrol (NSP) was founded in 1938 with the creed of “Service and Safety.” It offers unparalleled medical and emergency transport (toboggan) training and certification. It has an international reputation throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and in many strategic military areas abroad. Through my own personal trials and tribulations, I felt it important to give back and help train those willing to serve. I have always been proud to serve as an instructor and as an instructor trainer.
Off the mountain, Patrollers carry the skills to diminish suffering and save lives. They become the best community-based First Responders around. The more people I can train, the better. I have lost count of the number of roadside and common area accidents I have played a role in. It’s the next best thing to being a SuperHero. Best of all, because of my affiliation with the NSP I have been able to help start a Bike Patrol in Sacramento that has now grown to over 85 members.
IQ: What is your favorite part about being on the Diamond Peak Patrol team?
JC: The best part of being on the DP Team is the comradery and the lifelong relationships that develop. I stay in contact with two of my closest Patrol brothers from the ‘70s and countless others from over the years. There is a certain bond that gets built when you strive to make safety a priority and serve in stressful emergency situations. You see the best side of people and humanity.
IQ: What’s the least-understood aspect of the job?
JC: The least understood aspect of patrolling is the opening and closing of the mountain. Patrollers have to anticipate skier traffic and mitigate the obstacles. Patrollers ski around with bundles of markers (bamboo) and rope under some of the most arduous conditions to ensure skiers know conditions and boundaries. Patrollers don’t just get “first tracks,” they earn it. During closing Patrollers must then move those markers for the Groomers while watching for missing or errant skiers. Moving away from being a frontline Patroller I see the administrative duties of registration, recording and maintaining each member’s current certification as another required but thankless job.
IQ: If someone is interested in joining the NSP, what advice would you give them?
JC: Don’t join for the glory, instead travel the path of humility and service.
Photos courtesy of James "Jimmy" Cheng and Brian Hrindo