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Ski patrol students get ultimate storm training experience

For the Cumberland Times-News
Cumberland Times-News

SOMERSET, Pa. — National Ski Patrol Mountain Travel and Rescue instructors Jerry Timcik and Mike Logsdon led the ultimate training experience when the Laurel Highlands was hit with 36 inches of snow earlier this month.

The group of 10 ski patroller students represented patrols from various ski areas in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The course provided training to assist in a lost skier search and rescue mission in mountainous, cold weather, snowy conditions. The seven days culminated in a two-night overnight session on Laurel Mountain in Kooser State Park in Somerset County.

“Typically, patrollers ski or snowshoe about 1 mile into the back country for the first night’s experience,” said Logsdon, who is an Alpine patroller at Wisp Ski Resort and director of adventure sports at Garrett College. “This gives everyone a chance to get a feeling for the weather conditions, nature of the terrain and provides a sort of warm-up for the next day’s journey of 5 to 10 miles further into the back country.”

However, as Friday night’s snowfall began to accumulate, and with what the patrollers discovered Saturday morning, it became apparent that further journey on unbroken trail would be a highly risky venture.

Timcik, a cross-country, or Nordic, patroller with experience in winter back-country travel and rescue who serves on the Kooser State Park trail system, made the official call,

“We’re staying put. Since we’re already set up, it would be unwise for us to expend such an incredible amount of energy to trek to another campsite, set up camp, and try to instruct the various required lessons. With West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania all declaring a state of emergency, I feel we are as safe and protected as we can be here in these mountains, at this location.”

At about 3 a.m. Saturday, one patroller’s tent had collapsed and buried him. Having difficulty breathing and pushing himself free from the heavy snow, he had to evacuate himself by slitting open the roof of his tent. He then constructed a makeshift emergency tarp shelter to protect himself from the elements.

Participants constructed snow shelters known as quinzees to sleep in the second night. As a test of a quinzee’s strength, patrollers walk across the roof. When the outside temperature dropped to 5 Saturday night, temperatures inside the quinzees were about 30.

By noon Sunday, the park officials had opened the road to the participants’ vehicles and the group proceeded to the park office for a graduation ceremony.

Graduates included Fred Fargotstein, Laurel Highlands Nordic Patrol; Andrew Scott, Laurel Hill Nordic Patrol; John and Angelina LaForge, Wisp Alpine Ski Patrol; Eleonore Randolph, Laurel Highlands Nordic and Wisp Alpine patrols; John Majhan, Laurel Mountain Alpine Patrol; John Dyke, Seven Springs Alpine Patrol; and Stephan Kaltwasser and Catherine Patterson, students at Garrett College.

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