Go behind the scenes and meet one of our patrol dispatchers, a friendly voice of A-Basin radio and a mountain job you may not have heard of, before.
Each morning as staff arrive on the mountain, radios are turned on in offices from base operations to human resources, and one of a handful of familiar voices floats over channel 1 to welcome us to our posts. WQHI “The Wookie” aka patrol dispatch signs on before the lifts start turning to read out the morning weather forecast, check on lift openers, and settle in for a day spent managing A-Basin’s ski patrol.
“A lot of us would describe it as playing chess without being able to see all of your pieces,” said Emily Marotta, an A-Basin Ski Patrol Foreman - Medical Coordinator who is one of the regular dispatchers. We sat down with her to learn more about this rarely seen but often heard mountain job, and to put a friendly face to a very familiar voice.
The dispatcher’s perch is at 12,500 feet, where The Beavers, Lenawee and Montezuma lifts converge on the Snow Plume Refuge aka patrol headquarters. As Emily describes it, the dispatcher’s job—in its simplest form—is to send people and resources where they are most needed, when they are most needed. An A-Basin dispatcher typically manages 20-34 patrollers each day, plus keeping an ear on radio traffic from lift operations, lift maintenance and base ops.
After the regular morning patrol meeting, the dispatcher takes over for the day doling out terrain management assignments, tracking everyone’s whereabouts, monitoring avalanche techs, assigning tasks to patrollers when they return from their morning activities, and answering the phone in addition to handling all radio calls. (If you’ve ever picked up an on-mountain emergency phone, you’re chatting with patrol dispatch.)
All of this varies regularly based on conditions. The dispatcher usually has two other patrollers hanging out in the building to send out on missions as needed, and sometimes a ski patrol dog to keep them company. Emily tracks patrollers with a hand-drawn checkerboard, writing down, crossing off, and writing down again where everyone is as they move around the mountain. It’s at once very simple and extremely complex.
“When I’m not dispatching, then I’m one of the chess pieces. I love working outside, first and foremost, and I love the fact that my job is so diverse. No one day can be completely predicted or is the same. And when the skiing is good, nothing really tops that,” Emily said. “Ski patrolling is the greatest job in the world. And I’m not a morning person. I wouldn’t do this for many other jobs.”
Emily, a native of Cleveland, OH, is in her second season patrolling at A-Basin following three seasons as a ski patroller at Keystone. She spends two days a week dispatching, two days a week patrolling on skis, and also works part-time as an EMT in the Vail Health Hospital system.
“I enjoy trying to make other peoples’ days better. If I end up meeting someone on their worst day, I do feel good if I can make them feel a little better even if it’s only putting on a splint or helping them figure out what to do next because they’re not from here,” Emily said. “To be good ski patroller, you have to maintain high standards for yourself and high level of professionalism. That directly affects the safety and enjoyment of my team as well as our skiing public.”