Crater Lake patrollers earn outdoor perks

Andy Dungan of Ashland, Ore., enjoys a three-day tour around the Crater Rim with fellow members of the Crater Lake Ski Patrol. The volunteer ski patrol is in its 30th year of providing support for the national park. Enlarge photo

Medford Mail Tribune

Andy Dungan of Ashland, Ore., enjoys a three-day tour around the Crater Rim with fellow members of the Crater Lake Ski Patrol. The volunteer ski patrol is in its 30th year of providing support for the national park.

CRATER LAKE, Ore. (AP) – The work can be long, the baggage heavy and sometimes his nose gets cold, but, oh, what an office Dan Rubenson finds himself in three weekends each winter.

The 59-year-old Ashland, Ore., resident trades his sport coat as a Southern Oregon University economics professor for the red jacket of Crater Lake National Park’s Ski Patrol and all the perks it affords.

Free lodging in the park, more backwoods training than Bear Grylls can muster in his survival show and a few dozen interesting comrades in arms.

And ultimately, this cross-country skiing fanatic can’t get enough of lending a helping hand to those soaking in postcard views from atop skis on some of Oregon’s deepest and cleanest snow.

“Being able to ski the backcountry at Crater is a great experience,” Rubenson said. “It’s very enjoyable. And it’s useful to help people find their way.”

The park’s Ski Patrol is entering its 30th season and is ready to add more snow lovers to its fold.

The park is looking to beef up the patrol to 50 skilled volunteers who help National Park Service employees with myriad duties at Oregon’s only national park, taking on everything from answering questions and marking trails to delicate backwoods rescue operations should the need occur.

Members train regularly on all sorts of skills, and would-be members must complete two weekend training sessions to qualify.

Patrollers must have at least a current first-aid card and CPR/AED certificate.

Those who complete the training will be asked to sign up for three weekends of patrol work during the ski season, which amounts to labors of love for patrol members such as John Fertig of Medford.

A retired forester, the 63-year-old Fertig is something of a cross-country junkie, a practitioner of the discipline of skiing with just your toes bound to the boards.

Backcountry telemark skiing is the main draw, with Fertig negotiating the park’s rolling terrain in sweeping turns invented in Norway 150 years ago. But visitors can find Fertig on groomed trails moving with traditional kick-glides in snowy grooves or even skate-skiing, as Olympic viewers are used to seeing. All are the disciplines of skiing with binders attached only at the toe.

“The downside is that I’m not very good at any of it,” Fertig said. “But as the old saying goes, you don’t get style points.”

But it’s more than skiing that has kept Fertig on the patrol the last five years. He teaches patrollers backcountry navigation, the seemingly lost art of finding your way with a map and a compass instead of a GPS with perhaps sketchy battery life.

He enjoys his weekends at the park, whether it’s helping those on the snow or sharing time in the bunkhouse-like condo for the volunteers on their two-day stints.

Time for skiing after retirement and a sense of wanting to give back to skiing drew Fertig to the Crater Ski Patrol.

“What brings me back each year are the people,” Fertig said. “There are some very nice and interesting people on the ski patrol.”

Interest in a ski patrol at the park dates to 1983 when members of Klamath Falls’ Alla Mage Ski Club were evaluating their annual wilderness ski races and talk turned to using club members as trail patrollers. Park officials invited members to ski weekends at the park and provided radios.

Before the 1984 season, ski clubs from around the region held an organizational meeting, and patrol training sessions began later that year. Two years later, the group had its signature patch and red coats, purchased by the park service, and off it went.

Over the years, patrol members have found themselves working throughout much of the park’s 182,700 acres, employing the very techniques they study annually.

Sometimes, the work calls for providing emergency medical services, searching for lost skiers, posting warning signs and evaluating weather and avalanche conditions. Patrollers work in groups of at least two, and some of the days can be long.

There are days when Rubenson draws trail-marking duty, when he dons a 30-pound backpack full of triangular trail signs, a hammer and nails. He skis the trail looking to replace lost signs or adding new ones so skiers can look down the trail from one sign and see the next.

“It’s easy to lose the trail,” Rubenson said.

It’s not easy to lose interest.

“It’s physical work, but it’s fun,” Rubenson said. “You can carry a lot of weight in those backpacks.”