It’s 3.15 p.m. and we’re heading to the Boismint ski lift. The slopes are emptying and the light is slowly fading - it’s December. We’ll be making the most of the Boismint with a small crew of enthusiastic skiers until the final ride to the top.
Once we’re up there, we’ll be making for the ski patrollers’ cabin to try out the amazing new - and unique - experience offered by Club Val Thorens.
We’ll be giving “My life as a ski patroller” a trial run - tagging along with the ski patrollers and helping them put the slopes to bed for the night.
Erika - one of the four lady piste groomers in Val Thorens - meets us at the cabin, telling us that her colleagues will be along soon.
First off, the ski patrollers explain that the Val Thorens ski area is made up of 6 different sectors. Each sector is a clearly demarcated geographical area with its own team of ski patrollers in charge of safety. There’s a ski patrollers’ chalet at the top of each sector. They’re happy to provide you with information on the weather, avalanche conditions and off-piste routes. The Boismint sector has a team of 6 ski patrollers.
The ski patrollers tell us more about their sector. There’s a Gazex above the Boismint arrival point, which is a huge bent pipe protruding from the mountainside that’s used to trigger avalanches. A mixture of oxygen and propane is pumped into the pipe. A spark ignites, setting off explosion causing a rapid movement of air - which then triggers an avalanche. The ski patrollers show us where the gas bottles are stored, explaining that avalanches are triggered remotely from an office.
They show us their stock of marker poles to go on the edge of the slopes. Do you know why some of them have an orange tip? These are the ones that go on the right-hand side of the slope, helping you to find your bearings in a white-out or storm.
And did you see the big black and yellow marker poles at the top of the slopes? Ever wondered why they’re there? They’re winching poles and the snow grooming machines use them for locating an anchor point for working the slope attached to a winch. They use a winch on steep areas, enabling the machine to get back up again and do a good grooming job in tricky areas.
Then it’s back to the cabin, and the ski patrollers show us the rescue sleds they use to take the injured back down the slope. And they’re not all the same! A 1-rescuer sled is guided by a single ski patroller in front and has brakes for assistance. With a 2-rescuer sled, there’s one person at the front and one at the back, so they can brake as required. The 2-rescuer is more suited to tough terrain, as there are two people to guide and slow it down.
The ski patrollers show us their rescue packs - medical packs with first aid supplies and mountain equipment packs with ropes, crampons and ice axes etc. for off-piste rescues in difficult areas.
Then we go to the living room - the whole team is assembled and they offer us tea. We get the chance to chat, finding out about their job, training and love of what they do. But I’m not saying any more - you can find out for yourselves!
The radio crackles. The Boismint has just closed and we’ll soon be off to help them close the slopes. We take a last slurp of tea and get ourselves ready for the off. The ski area is deserted, night is falling and the lifts have stopped. We ski down to Armoise, where we make sure that the markers are firmly embedded in the snow. We remove some of the signage to make things easier for the snow grooming machines arriving after us, moving the “slow down” banners and putting them on the edge of the slope so that the drivers don’t have to get down from their machines before they run the groomers over the snow.
We get down to the bottom and take the last Cairn cabins home. The “Live my life as a ski patroller” experience taught us a huge amount about a job that was only in the background before. It was great chatting to them and finding out about their job, skills, daily tasks and different takes.
Their work might take place behind the scenes, but they love their job and want us to see what they do. Club Val Thorens offers you the chance to take a look behind the scenes through a range of different experiences: “Live my life as a ski patroller”, “Live my life as a piste groomer”, “Live my life as a ski lift operator” and “Live my life as a snow clearer”.