A GP on the ski patrol
Dr Martin Priestley describes his work with the ski patrol at the Glensee ski centre in Scotland
Dr Martin Priestley
Role Ski patroller and retired GP
Location Glenshee ski centre, was a GP in Perth until 2005
Hours worked Two days a week for nine hours a day
My day starts before dawn, often at sub-zero temperatures, with a one hour drive on lonely roads to my local ski centre. It’s the largest of the five in Scotland with skiing over three valleys using three chairs and fifteen drag lifts.
I meet my fellow patrollers in the patrol squad room. During the week there are six of us altogether, at the weekends it is more like ten. I am the only GP on the ski patrol, but there are some other volunteer doctors: a retired plastic surgeon, an active orthopaodic surgeon and a sports medicine doctor. We get suited and booted, appraising ourselves of the weather forecast and any operation issues that have arisen over night.
Our boss divides us into teams of two or three and directs us to the areas we will be responsible for today.
The first job is to ski the pistes of your sector to ensure they are safe for the public to use and to mark any hazards such as rocks, ice, streams and drifts with black and yellow poles. We put out direction and warning signs every day as all this piste furniture is cleared away every evening to give the piste bashers free reign to prepare the surfaces – it’s a time-consuming and exhausting job.
I have a break in one of the centre cafés. A skier approaches me. His girlfriend is feeling dizzy having had a fall earlier - can I help? I check her out, she is shaken and frightened, but with my reassurance is ready to ski off again.
The team skis our whole area repeatedly looking to replace poles, de-ice piste signs and mark new hazards. Customers may ask direction or advice, and by this time the lines at the tows are growing so we also marshal the crowds.
A casualty! The call comes over the radio and whichever patroller is free in the sector responds. We each have call signs, mine is Doc martin. Every patroller becomes a doctor - we secure the area of the incident, call for back up early and assess the casualty to give appropriate first aid, reassurance and rapid evacuation off the hill.
On this occasion it’s a girl who has lost control of her skis and twisted her knee. This is easily dealt with by two patrollers. The knee is splinted, the casualty safely stowed away on the sledge and skied to the rescue centre.
Lower limb injuries are a big part of the job, sometimes dealt with by a single patroller. This is the time you can lose your credibility by taking an accidental tumble. Fortunately we are fined for all falls and the proceeds are put in the tip box which funds the end of season falls and tips party.
Lunchtime feels like the end of the day, it’s been so busy. The afternoon session is a repeat of the morning with Scotland’s ever changing weather conditions.
It’s back to patrolling the whole area again looking to replace dislodged signs that those pesky skiers have collided with and put up new ones in response to the ever-changing conditions.
There has been in incident in the next sector and the patroller requires assistance. I arrive to find a lady with a fractured collar bone in a collar and cuff sling being laid on a stretcher. I call for the large red tractor which prepares the pistes and she is evacuated happily in the seating position.
We are all pretty shattered and hoping the manager will call a halt to proceedings early, but he gives the customers good value for money and we stay on until close down is announced. Closing time is 15.30 in January, but 17.00 by late March. For us this is a reversal of the opening tasks. We advise customers of last lifts, take down all the signage and poles we put out and are the last to ski every run to check no customers are left. During all this activity you can be called to another casualty at any time.
Back at the patrol room I’m ready to depart but a customer who twisted his knee earlier now wants it checked out – Is there a doctor here?
Such is the day of the GP ski patroller – I hardly need any medical skills but do require plenty of stamina and ski stability.