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Richard W. Moulton - Ski Sentinels: The Story of the National Ski Patrol
This 45-minute program was produced for the 70th anniversary of the National Ski Patrol (1938-2008). It includes historic footage from the earliest days to the present. The basis of modern alpine skiing emerged from World War I after extensive fighting on skis in the Alps. Roland Palmedo, a New York investment banker, spent many winters skiing in the Alps after the war. In 1934, at the urging of Palmedo, the Mt Mansfield ski club created a safety patrol modeled on what Palmedo had seen in Switzerland. For years, various organizations around the country have debated which ski patrol was the first in the United States.

Charles Minot Dole was the father of the National Ski Patrol System. In 1936, following the death of his friend Frank Edson in a ski race, Dole began a systematic study of the causes of ski accidents. He concluded that there was a need for on-hill rescue services. Some people thought this was a bad idea, arguing that skiers and mountaineers had the responsibility to take care of themselves and that organized rescue would eliminate some of the adventure that was essential to skiing. The National Ski Patrol was launched in 1938 after the National Ski Championships at Stowe, Vermont. Roger Langley, president of the United States Ski Association, asked Dole to be chairman of a committee to spread the ski partrol concept nationally.

Safety and service are the core concepts of the Ski Patrol. The Patrol studies accident patterns to find ways to reduce them, for example by improving equipment design. Unlike many mountain rescue organizations around the world, the Ski Patrol does not charge for its services. Since the beginning, this has meant that the Ski Patrol is largely an organization of volunteers.

In its first three seasons, the National Ski Patrol System grew to include 180 patrols nationwide, with over 4,000 volunteer patrolmen. With the development of larger ski areas, the need for paid patrols became apparent. The typical model was for a patrol to have a paid director and a few professional patrollers supplemented by volunteers from the National Ski Patrol. At Sun Valley, ski school director Friedl Pfeifer appointed Nelson Bennett to head the ski patrol.

At the beginning of World War II, Charles Minot Dole observed how Finnish ski troops and guerilla tactics had been effective against the Russians invading their country. He lobbied for creation of U.S. mountain troops and the National Ski Patrol served as the recruiting organization after the 10th Mountain Division was established. This segment includes interviews with Bob Parker, George Wesson, Nelson Bennett, and John Litchfield. The segment includes a few scenes of ski troop activities on Mt Rainier (19:35, 20:11).

Monty Atwater, a 10th Mountain veteran, started avalanche research at Alta, Utah (27:00). With Ed LaChapelle he developed methods for avalanche control that are used today. This segment includes an interview with Ed LaChapelle, who brought a physics background and experience at the Swiss Avalanche Institute when he joined Atwater in the winter of 1953. Dolores LaChapelle is also interviewed. There is footage of the LaChapelles skiing in the 1950s with Ed doing avalanche control work.

The program discusses modern developments and trends in the National Ski Patrol, which I have not summarized here. The DVD also includes a montage of historic ski patrol films, from which clips have been used throughout the program.

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Last Updated: Wed Dec 30 11:30:30 PST 2009