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Non-Profit Spotlight

Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol

The redcoats are coming, but in this case they are coming to help.

The Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol is among the oldest and largest all-volunteer, self-funded ski patrols in the nation. Founded in 1938 and boasting a one-of-a-kind chalet-style facility designed and built by its members, the MSSP serves the Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park with uncommon dedication and style. Being a part of the patrol means a lot to its members, but it means even more to skiers and riders who become lost or injured.

Randy Foiles, Director-elect of the Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol, stands amid a half dozen hospital beds on the chalet’s medical floor. Recalling a day from three seasons ago, Foiles quickly becomes emotional.

“I’ll never forget it,” he remembers, fighting back tears. “I was riding up chair two, and I saw a man standing there who had paused during his run. All of a sudden he just tipped forward, landing on his chest. By the way he fell, I knew it was serious.”

He radioed for help, and within seconds, Joe Ferraro was zipping up the mountain on a snowmobile as another patrol member was skiing down on the most important run of his life. Foiles lived through what felt like the longest chairlift ride of his life, then skied down fast to find out that the man who collapsed was a personal friend. Ferraro had begun CPR, and a portable defibrillator unit was also put to use, restoring the man’s pulse. The patient was soon passed into the waiting arms of Spokane’s medical community, but during that moment of greatest need, on the steep pitch of Two Face, a few things saved his life: preparation, intuition, and several pieces of Ski-Swap-funded equipment.

Everything the MSSP does is funded entirely through donations and events like the Ski Swap. Donations are what bought the equipment used to save Foiles’ friend, who has recovered fully and returned to skiing.

Along with the heart-pumping rescues, the Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol is fueled by friendships, humor and a shared sense of community that is palpable inside the chalet. There is a connectedness that has been forged over years of shared activity: taking training courses together, fundraising at the Ski Swap, treating injured skiers and riders, and of course enjoying the snow. The night before, an impromptu acoustic guitar sing-along had lasted until nearly 2 AM.

These are friendships built on a love of skiing, a love of nature, and a love of people. It’s not surprising, then, that the friendships themselves end up saving lives.

Just this season, two off-duty MSSP members were enjoying a day of backcountry skiing together. As they were hiking out, they saw a set of small fresh boot prints leading down a logging trail in a direction the ski patrollers knew led nowhere. They followed the prints to the child, who had been separated from his group and then became confused, hiking a great distance out of bounds. They tended to the child and called for help. Sometimes a patrol member’s awareness and knowledge of the terrain can make all the difference. A bit of luck doesn’t hurt either.

Foiles shakes his head gravely, considering what might have been a tragedy. “Truly, my best lifelong friendships are right here on the ski patrol,” Foiles says. “We love being together and doing this work.”

It’s clear that this sense of community mixed with a sense of purpose is what keeps the group thriving as one of the foremost ski patrols in the country.