Mt. Pinos Nordic Ski Patrol
The Mt. Pinos Nordic Ski Patrol is an award winning backcountry Ski Patrol that has been serving the public in partnership with the United States Forest Service since 1976. They have been awarded “National Outstanding Nordic Ski Patrol” by the National Ski Patrol for 1993, 1996, 1999, 2006 and again in 2011. The Patrol is located on Mount Pinos (8,847′) in the Los Padres Forest near Frazier Park, California. As a Condor flies, Mt. Pinos is roughly 75 miles North-West of downtown Los Angeles–just over a 1.5 hour drive, mostly on major highways.
Each year, prior to the onset of the new winter season, the Mt. Pinos Nordic Ski Patrol has an on-the-hill refresher training. Usually this is a day-long event with 8-10 stations where the patrollers demonstrate and refresh their proficiency in various skills. In August 2013, in preparation for the 2013-14 season, the planners of the event decided to take it over the top by organizing a mass casualty training scenario and invited patrollers from Mammoth Basin Nordic Backcountry Patrol and California Winter Search and Rescue Team – South to participate. The event also involved 17 “patients” from two local Boy Scout Troops, a professional make-up artist, personnel responsible for feeding and hydrating all participants and 10 evaluators from a variety of Patrols in the Southern California Region to monitor the exercise and ensure the safety of all participants.
The exercise starts with a local Scout group working with the Forest Service. They had spent the day on top of Mt. Pinos doing clean-up and were driving down the dirt road normally closed to the public. Their van slid off the road, over the side of an embankment, rolling several time before coming to a stop at the bottom of a ravine. The occupants of the van were mostly ejected in the roll-over and are spread out in the ravine.
Nordic Base (The Mt. Pinos Nordic Ski Patrol headquarters at the end of the road, 8,300’ elevation) receives a radio call from the Forest Service at 1500 hours and is dispatched to respond. The Mt.Pinos “Team Leader” assumes the role of Incident Commander (IC) and initiates the response. Phase I of the exercise is successfully completed by 1710 hours and consisted of; Triaging 18 individuals (8 Red, 5 yellow, 4 green & 1 black), stabilizing and providing initial care within the scope of their OEC training to the 17 at the accident site. Transporting the 17 to Nordic Base where additional triage takes place and as appropriate further care is administered before each of the 17 is handed off to Advance Life Support (ALS) care.
Upon completion of Phase I, all participants begin to unwind and relax as the sun sets over the distant mountains. Dinner is provided to all. This is a time where the injured are still in make-up and many covered in blood. Patrollers and safety personnel are laughing with the injured as they recount the realism of the event. As dinner winds down and all have had time to rest and re-charge, the “driver” of the van (triaged as Green with minor injuries) inquires as to the well being of the five Scouts who were not injured in the roll-over and went for help. Within moments it is realized by all that the five are not accounted for and they have not been seen since they left the accident site. The day is not over, laughter and talking stop. For the purpose of the Phase II training exercise, a second Incident Commander had been designated, assumes the roll of Incident Commander and a Search and Rescue operation is initiated at 1754 hours.
The Incident Commander (IC) identified and deployed multiple SAR teams. Under coordinated direction, the various teams follow their assignments and to the amazement of the event planners, the five missing youths are located at 1816 hours. The IC deployed most of the teams to the accident site (site last seen), but also selected one team to flank the perimeter of potential travel. While the five were visually located at 1816 hours, the SAR team arrived on scene at 1818 hours, triage is completed (2 red, 1 yellow & 2 green) and the team radioed in their location, status and resource needs. The remaining SAR teams are recalled to Nordic Base and re-deployed to the SAR site with requested resources. Upon completion of stabilization at the site, they were transported to Nordic Base,. There, Secondary triage and treatment were completed, all five were handed off to Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel. Scenario II is completed by 1926 hours.
The following morning, a hot breakfast is served to all participants, after which an extensive debriefing takes place from 0900 to 1120 hours. The debriefing covers both scenarios and is structured to allow a frank discussion with all the involved patrollers, discuss their actions and what was learned. Then the safety evaluators provided a constructive view of what their observations. Patients participated in both discussions as well, offering insight as to what they experienced.
*All photos attached to this article copyright 2013 by C. Dugger.