In late March, a few members of Willamette’s ski patrol (including myself), did a practice session lowering the Cascade 100 down RTS, Willamette Pass’s steepest run. This is the only run on the mountain where patrollers don’t ski or board down with the sleds in tow. Instead, the sled is belayed down the 50 degree pitch with a rope and belay device to the patient. Once the sled reaches the patient, they are loaded onto the sled after assessment and treatment for injuries, etc. and two patrollers (one in the handles and one on the tail rope) transport the patient to the aid room for further evaluation/treatment.
This was my first time practicing lowering the sled on RTS, and Kevin and I transported the sled from the top of the Eagle Peak Accelerator to a marked tree on the left side of the run about 150 off the top. I’ve ridden RTS many times and it is a favorite of mine, but hauling the sled down the steep slope to the belay tree was a bit intimidating the first time. Here’s a picture of us running the Cascade 100 down to the belay tree (Kevin in the handles with me on the tail rope)….note all pictures are courtesy of Kevin Vogt.
Once down to the tree, Kevin held the sled and I ran the tail rope around the tree for extra support. We pulled the rope out of the rope bag and set-up the anchor and belay device. Kevin stayed in the handles while I belayed. This part is where you have to trust the belayer, because you must lean downhill while holding the sled. A nylon strap connects between the two handles and keeps you from falling. I belayed Kevin as smoothly as I could, and the system worked pretty well. Several of us took turns driving the sled and belaying. Here’s a shot of us getting the rope and anchor set-up….
This shot shows how the lowering system works as Kevin belays…….
Here’s a shot of Keith being lowered that shows the steepness of RTS and why the patrol lowers on this particular run…..you could imagine the consequences if the sled became lost on that steep of a slope….
In the middle of the run, Keith transferred out of the handles and I jumped in to see what it feels like to be lowered while holding the sled. It really wasn’t that much different than I expected, and felt very controlled….
At the end of the lower, after the patient has been transported off the run, the belayer will undo the anchor system and drop the rope down the run. It gets put back in the stuff sack and taken back up to the top of the EPA along with the sled, ready for use by the next patroller who needs it.
This type of training is definitely a good thing – it’s best to work out the kinks and become familiar with the system well in advance of needing to use it in a real life scenario.