Coping with tragedy on the ski slopes | SierraSun.com

Coping with tragedy on the ski slopes

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Northstar-at-Tahoe ski patrollers who have responded to three fatal skier and snowboarder accidents at the resort over a span of a few weeks have help coping with the traumatic events.

After a serious injury or a death on the slopes, patrollers are invited to the Northstar Fire Department for a “critical stress debriefing,” said Northstar Fire Department spokesman Jason Gibeaut.

Northstar-at-Tahoe employees are also offered free counseling, and the resort has had a 24-hour counseling hotline that any employee can call for free, said resort spokeswoman Nicole Klay.

“They can call 24/7 and go in and have professional counseling,” Klay said.

On March 30, a 42-year-old female snowboarder from Rochester, N.Y., died at Northstar after hitting a tree on the resort’s backside on a a groomed run.

On March 28, a 20-year-old skier from San Jose hit a tree and died. He was not wearing a helmet, according to resort officials.

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Earlier in March two others died at Northstar ” one after hitting a tree and another due to cardiac arrest.

At the Northstar Fire Department, where employees often deal with tragic or traumatic events, officials know the importance of gathering and talking about the situation. The department volunteered to include the ski patrol in its debriefing.

“We’ll talk about how we thought things went,” Gibeaut said.

If anyone is still shaken by the incident after the debriefing, the department contacts the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, and a chaplain can be called to the station to meet with a firefighter or ski patroller, Gibeaut said.

“They’re here to help with anyone dealing with death or something really traumatic,” he said.

Although the Northstar Fire Department does not have a professional grief counselor, they have an agreement with the Truckee Fire Protection District that allows their employees to see Truckee’s counselor if necessary.

Above all, fire department officials encourage ski patrollers and other involved in traumatic events to not feel ashamed about how an incident affected them.

Traumatic events “are different for everyone,” said Gibeaut.

“Don’t feel abnormal if you’re shocked or depressed or have any questions,” said Gibeaut, “You don’t have to be a new patroller or firefighter to have hurt or questions.”