Antelope Butte hosts ski patrol event

Lisa Kunkel

A sea of red descended on the Antelope Butte Mountain Recreation Area last month as Shell’s local hill hosted the National Ski Patrol’s annual Northern Division Powder Rendezvous.  

The event location was poetic as Antelope Butte was just named Outstanding Small Patrol in the Nation for 2022.

With their mountain uniforms of red jackets donning bright white medical crosses, over 50 ski patrollers from Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska honed their skills over three days on Jan. 20-22. It was clear that regardless of geographic location, ski patrollers are a tight-knit family. 

The event was coordinated by Michael Marlow, the supervisor of the Northern Division of Outdoor Emergency Transportation. With a goal to teach and enhance patroller skiing and skills in running toboggans – the orange sleds used to bring injured guests off the mountain. 

Highlights for Marlow, who is based out of Helena, Mont., included, “The networking and knowledge shared amongst our many different patrollers, our toboggan rodeo (a timed event that incorporates toboggan skills, first aid skills, and backcountry rescue skills), and the absolute fantastic hospitality of Antelope Butte and their entire team.”

Marlow added, “Out of the 15 NSP Northern Divisions mountains, Antelope Butte has been chosen to be one of the five Northern Division Senior (meaning advanced) Patroller testing areas, so we will be back once every three to five years in the future.”

Antelope Butte Snowsports director Christy Lohof participated in the event and said, “My personal experience was very positive. The event began Friday afternoon with a refresher for those of us who are Outdoor Emergency Transportation (OET) toboggan instructors. In my group we had patrollers from Cody’s Sleeping Giant, California, North Dakota’s Huff Hills, Montana’s Great Divide, and of course me from Antelope Butte. We took turns in the handles and on the tail rope positions and shared tips and tricks on efficient and safe handling.”

Saturday, the Women of Northern Division, a relatively new group, gathered with PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) CEO Eliza Kunta from Red Lodge. “She was outstanding in providing us fundamental ski skills that would aid us in toboggan handling. At one point she laughed, ‘I work with a lot of women's groups from all over the country and this is the strongest group of women I have skied with.’,” added Lohof. 

The timed "Toboggan Rodeo" was held along Last Tango on Saturday afternoon. Nine teams of three patrollers had to complete five stations: Back into a corridor and load the third patient, circle a large area pulling the toboggan uphill, apply an arm sling, put up three pieces of bamboo with clove hitched rope, and take the patient through a slalom course. 

“Our team consisting of Heidi from Alaska, Marc from Utah, and myself won with the fastest time,” said Lohof. 

The Powder Rendezvous event also included a banquet on the mountain at Elk View Inn Saturday night.

Sunday morning they gathered with Level 3 PSIA Ski Clinicians from Montana’s Big Sky Resort and the Yellowstone Club to work on ski skills. It was a time for individual coaching and feedback.

“Overall the event was outstanding with very high caliber patrollers and ski instructors from all over the country,” said Lohof. “I have been a National Ski Patroller for 26 years and this was the most impressive event I have ever attended. Many patrollers and instructors came up to me very excited about Antelope Butte as a ski area, and of course I promised to defend our Toboggan Rodeo title with Heidi and Marc the next time they host a toboggan event in their states.”

Perhaps the best part of Powder Rendezvous was that it somehow inspired it to snow, quipped Lohof. Antelope Butte is now blanketed with over 24 inches of fresh powder.

“What an incredible weekend!” said mountain manager Dick Stillson.