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The summer before the Telluride ski area officially opened, teams were busy downing trees to cut ski runs. Night watch of the burning wood piles occasionally included running downhill to stop rolling logs before they caught anything on fire. Bees and black flies ruled the job site during the day.

Of course, once the snow started flying and the resort opened to the public, the newly cut trails continued to need upkeep. Snowcats didn’t have their current day capabilities in 1972, and there were still a ton of trees across many runs. The early trail crews were responsible for sidestepping much of the terrain between the top of Chair 4 and Chair 6, Chair 5, See Forever, and the Plunge. The crews even shoveled the moguls flat! No task was off limits in this era as the carried over miner mentality was “do whatever it takes”.


28 people showed up for the inaugural ski patrol hiring clinic, but only 14 made the cut. Patrollers came from Aspen, Snowmass, Vail, and beyond to take in the dramatic beauty of the San Juans and be part of something, sure to be special, from the start. In the early years, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be skier days of less than 100 people.

In 1972, Patrol Headquarters (PHQ) was where we know it today, and much is still the original building. The crew spent long hours together and quickly became great friends. A Telluride ski patrol tradition, the “card draw” originated that first year with groover duty (pulling poo from the cans each night) and now dictates everything including daily sweeps, heli missions, and patrol exchanges.

The first few seasons on patrol, there were no transceivers. Patrollers skied with cords around their waist, the end dragging behind them. If someone was caught in an avalanche, their partner would follow the cord and dig them out by hand. Luckily, technology improved in coordination with terrain expansions and backcountry interest. Hike-to terrain on Gold Hill and Prospect Ridge helped solidify Telluride as a rugged destination with unique skiing.

In 1977, ski patrol hired their first female, Jane Watenpaugh. Of her first season, Jane recalls, “I didn’t get very much experience that year, but we really just skied and had fun and threw charges and created avalanches. That’s how I remember it.” Two years later, patrol’s second female, Joni Knowles, joined the team.

Today, ski patrol has over 60 members who are well versed EMTs, snow safety professionals, second generation patrollers, guides, and so much more. Many would agree it is the coolest job on snow!

Thanks Tom Sokolowski and Jane Watenpaugh for your amazing ski patrol stories! And thank you patrol for letting us browse your ski patrol photo archives.