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Nuts & Bolts Clinic

Strong and Prepared: Patrollers tighten their skills at the annual “Nuts & Bolts” Clinic.

“Nuts & Bolts: the practical workings of a machine or enterprise as opposed to theoretical considerations.” As an NSP patroller, if you are looking for practical know-how, there is no more stimulating place to find it than at Nuts & Bolts.

The slopes of Mt. Hood buzzed with activity as the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol and the Wy’East Region of the Pacific Northwest Division hosted another successful Nuts & Bolts clinic weekend, held June 7-9, 2024. Patrollers from across the country converged on Timberline Ski Resort – mostly on their own dime - for a whirlwind three days packed with learning, camaraderie, and that special brand of mountain fun that only NSP gatherings can deliver. Started 20+ years ago as a few patrollers gathering to work on technique, this much-anticipated event now draws patrollers from across the nation, all eager to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and celebrate the fellowship that defines the National Ski Patrol.

As always, this year's event took place amidst a bustling scene on the majestic Mt. Hood, alongside well-known and aspiring racers honing their skills post-winter. They converge here in the summer because the famous Palmer chairlift – the highest on Mt. Hood - tops off above the treeline at 8,540 feet, just below the 11,239-foot summit of the mountain. The iconic chairlift services the Palmer Snowfield, a glacier that is a destination for ski teams and freestylers looking to train throughout the summer on the High Cascade. The Palmer chairlift is closed (indeed, buried!) during winter due to its exposure.  Its opening signifies the changing of the seasons. When that happens, national race teams from around the world flock to Mt. Hood for summer training, adding to the vibrant atmosphere.

From seasoned veterans to recently minted patrollers, the 2024 Nuts & Bolts offered something for every NSP member. The focus was on hands-on Outdoor Emergency Technique (OET) clinics, and sharing tips and tricks that each of us learn over the years as we execute our duties on the hill.  Experienced instructors led patrollers through a series of exercises on the mountain, enhancing their skills and techniques. These dynamic sessions were a chance for patrollers to not only refresh their knowledge but also gain valuable new insights from others in different divisions.  

One of the NSP’s strengths is its ability to cross train between Divisions, unlocking a treasure trove of knowledge and expertise. In the classroom, we all learn the same OEC procedures. But on the mountains from Maine to Alaska, Patrollers gain firsthand experience with dramatic variations in mountain environments. So it is valuable when a patroller from the deep powder fields of Utah learns to tackle the icy steeps of Vermont, or a patroller from the meticulously groomed trails of the Midwest learns to navigate the sprawling, ungroomed terrain of the Rockies. This exposure hones their ability to adapt rescue techniques and patient care to the unique challenges presented by varied weather, terrain, and snow conditions. For example, a patroller from the avalanche-prone Pacific Northwest can share their expertise in companion rescue with colleagues in the East, where wet snow avalanches pose a different threat. Similarly, a patroller from the wind-battered ridgelines of the Northeast can teach wind management strategies to their counterparts who patrol sunny, exposed slopes in the West. This cross-pollination of knowledge, evidenced at Nuts & Bolts, strengthens the National Ski Patrol's national response capabilities, ensuring every patroller has the skills to effectively manage emergencies in any situation.

But Nuts & Bolts isn't just about on-hill drills. It's a celebration of the incredible NSP community, a place where patrollers from all walks of life can connect and share their passion for mountain safety.

Pacific Northwest Division Director Shelley Urban was kind enough to be my Nuts & Bolts guide for the weekend. We met up at the Portland airport for the ninety-minute trip to Government Camp, the quaint ski-oriented village that sits in the middle of Mt. Hood’s three ski areas. As soon as we arrived we connected with Karl Uhlig, former Northern Division Director, who had come from Montana to help instruct a class.

The weekend kicked off with an informal social hosted by Marc Bartlage, Intermountain Division Director, and his wife Kristen, Intermountain’s Women’s Program Supervisor. It was a perfect opportunity to meet and re-meet fellow patrollers, swap stories from this season's epics, and forge new friendships. This personal engagement continued throughout the entire event, with patrollers gathering both on the hill and in the evenings for lively discussions, delicious meals, and of course a few libations.

Mother Nature provided a glorious backdrop for the entire event. Three days of sunshine, perfect snow, and comfortable 70-degree weather made for ideal training conditions. Each morning, patrollers were greeted by a team of Certified Patrollers who graciously waxed every participant’s skis to prep for the warm weather corn snow – a welcome convenience that ensured everyone could hit the slopes with confidence.

The days on the hill began early, around 7 am, and ended by 1 pm as the resort closed down and reset the wet, heavy snow for the following day. This shortened schedule offered the perfect opportunity for patrollers to unwind and enjoy the many offerings within the famous Timberline Lodge.

With the towering Mt Hood as a backdrop, at an elevation of 6,000 feet, Timberline Lodge is a historic landmark steeped in rich history. Constructed during the Great Depression as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) arts project, the lodge's grand design and artistry stand as a testament to the era. It’s majestic presence served as the setting for Stephen King’s iconic novel-turned-movie  "The Shining." Inside, Timberline Lodge offers a warm and inviting atmosphere, with a variety of restaurants and bars perfect for après-ski relaxation.

But of course the crux of the weekend was a series of intensive training sessions focused on mountain safety and toboggan handling. Patrollers honed their skills in critical areas like:

  • General Mountain Safety: Refreshing their knowledge on essential procedures to keep themselves and others safe in the unforgiving mountain environment.
  • Four-Handle Tobogganing: Mastering the art of maneuvering toboggans with four handles.
  • Handles & Ropes: Perfecting techniques Cascade 100, 350, SS Cruiser & Edge all on varied terrain.
  • Working Smarter, Not Harder: Learning innovative methods to make toboggan pulling less strenuous and more efficient, preserving patrollers' energy for critical tasks.
  • Ski Trainers’ Workshop - Taught by PSIA Level 3+ Instructors, designed to improve skiing & boarding evaluation skills of OET Program instructors, providing a means to develop skills to add to their tool box.
  • Back Country Techniques – Techniques for toboggan rescue and patrol considerations outside the resort boundries.
  • Low Angle Rescue
  • Toboggan Race: A fun and friendly competition capped off the weekend, allowing patrollers to put their newfound skills to the test in a lighthearted race.


For a small area, Eastern patroller like me, the sessions were eye-opening. I had never even seen a 4-handle toboggan, known as the “360” out West. So I was trained when to use one, why it is used, how to drive it from the front, and how to assist the driver from the rear handles. I also had the opportunity to train on a super lightweight Edge toboggan, which could help add a few extra years of service to aging patrollers who can no longer navigate the traditional, heavier sleds. Finally, I participated in the Toboggan Race with a tried and true Cascade 100.  Fortunately, I did not completely humiliate myself.

The heavy, wet, ungroomed corn is also something we typically don’t experience in the East. Sal Mascarenas, National Certified Program Director, and Jeffrey Weitz, OET Assistant National Program Director, graciously coached a group of us how to navigate these conditions. Under their skilled guidance, we went from embarrassingly awkward on Friday to confident and at ease on Saturday.

Sunday offered a chance to put theory into practice on low-angle rescue techniques. This hands-on experience provided valuable insights into the newest tech –– tools that will undoubtedly make a difference when we are called upon for such a rescue.

As one might imagine when 100 patrollers gather for a weekend, it isn’t all about work. Off hours, they know how to enjoy themselves. Friday night brought the group together at a cozy pizzeria in Government Camp for vibrant discussions, fueled by delicious pizza.  Fuxi Racing USA generously sponsored an auction, adding a layer of excitement and friendly competition to the night. This served as the perfect opportunity to raise a toast to the man behind the brand, Franz Fuchsberger, or "Fuxi" as everyone knows him. From humble beginnings, starting out of the back of his truck, he has grown Fuxi Racing USA into a multi-location business. His passion for the sport and his commitment to vibrant gear – think neon and innovative designs – have become synonymous with the energy and enthusiasm that defines the NSP’s and racing teams’ training at Mt. Hood.

Saturday night's festivities took a delicious turn with a themed "Italian Night" outdoor gathering at the famed Mt. Hood Ski Patrol headquarters in Government Camp. A perfect way to unwind after a hard day of training, the evening featured delicious food cooked on-site, a Whiskey Bar, and other refreshments for patrollers to relax and celebrate their accomplishments.

Huge credit goes to Heather Van Horton, Wy'East Region Director, David Atkinson, NSP Alumni Mt Hood Ski Patrol/Paradise Valley Ski Patrol, and Jeffrey Weitz for their supreme organization. They were gracious hosts to close friends and new-comers alike, ensuring a smooth-running and unforgettable Nuts & Bolts experience.

As the event concluded, the feedback from attendees was, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly positive. The Wy’East Region’s "Nuts & Bolts" event at Mt. Hood exemplifies the dedication and passion of the ski patrol community. By fostering an environment of learning, collaboration, and support, this annual gathering plays a crucial role in ensuring that patrollers are well-equipped to handle the challenges of their critical roles.

It was an unforgettable event. Next Spring, if you haven’t had enough when the mud hits your home area, I would encourage you to reserve a spot for this unique June ski experience. Come to teach, to learn, and to meet some amazing colleagues. The folks from Wy’East welcome all patrollers. 

For more information about the Wy’East Region’s annual Nuts & Bolts clinic, visit https://www.nsp-pnwd.org.

Written by Rich Pietrafesa

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