Scott Launt first encountered the ski patrol at Greek Peak when he was a young teenager suffering from skier’s thumb. Launt came off the slope on his own, but a member of the ski patrol met him to administer aid for the sprain. Launt’s admiration for the patroller’s work increased, especially when the patroller offered to replace his broken ski pole, which had been a recent Christmas gift and was still under warranty.
“That was over and above,” Launt said, recalling the incident. “I had always admired the work they did and I got to a point that I was able to join in.”
Now 64, Launt is in his 20th year as a member of the Labrador Mountain Ski Patrol, a group of volunteers averaging 70 members each year at the slopes in Truxton. The patrollers plan to host their annual LabFest fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 16, and Sunday, Feb. 17, to raise money for supplies needed throughout the season.
The group at Labrador is an affiliate of the National Ski Patrol, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. According to Central New York region ski patrol historian Jeff Paston, the National Ski Patrol began in Vermont in 1938 as a mountain rescue organization. The founder of the patrol, Charles “Minnie” Dole, had recently lost a friend on the slopes and realized the need for a comprehensive response team.
The patrol began with first aid training provided by the Red Cross for winter recreation, but has since developed its own Outdoor Emergency Care manual. New patrollers begin classroom training in August and are certified by approved local instructors. They also take ski and toboggan courses through the early winter and complete their certification in February. Certified patrol members revisit the material each year to stay current with first responder training.
Launt said the patrol does not see too many serious injuries, although the occasional concussion or broken bone does occur. But Launt and his fellow patrollers train to respond on the mountain efficiently and ensure skiers are transported to local ambulance crews if necessary. The veteran skier volunteers each Thursday, and has built a rapport with the members of his patrol. Many of the same members have worked the shift with him for years, dating back to sharing his training classes two decades ago.
“We’re lifelong friends,” Launt said. “We play golf in the summer. Part of the fun is after a sweep, somebody’s brought a crock pot or something.”
The bonds between patrollers come from years of ensuring others’ safety on the mountain, and that commitment extends to skiers. “They should feel comfort that when they drop their kids off at the bus for ski club that there’s going to be somebody on the hill should the need arise,” he said.
That mentality carries into every region of the patrol nationwide. The National Ski Patrol was chartered by Congress in 1980 and currently has more than 28,500 members across the country. Dole, the patrol’s founder, is also famed as the man responsible for the creation of the 10th Mountain Division, a skiing division of the Army in World War II that saw most of its action in Italy. Dole lobbied the War Department for an alpine unit, which he believed necessary for a complete war effort.
The NSP screened the division’s members, many of them existing patrollers. Members of the original division also contributed to the skiing industry following the war by creating popular skiing destinations such as Colorado’s Vail and Aspen, and Sugarbush in Vermont. The existing 10th Mountain Division is based at Fort Drum, outside Watertown.
Service remains the motivation behind the patrol. “I enjoy being outside and I like to ski, but if I just wanted to ski I’d buy a season ticket,” Launt said. Launt and other LabFest participants hope the funds raised through the two-day event will defray the cost of training textbooks and special splinting supplies, and will amount to enough to purchase additional toboggans for the team. The sleds, for example, cost $1,100 apiece. “If we can add one or two to our fleet, that’s big, because the mountain can’t do it all,” he said, meaning those who operate Labrador.
LabFest features several classic activities including hot dog stands and Kids’ Town festivities such as an egg and spoon race, naturally on skis. The weekend also includes a basket raffle, an increasingly popular event because each shift competes to assemble the best prize. New events this year are a wine tasting and video contest. There will be fireworks on Saturday evening and a pancake breakfast Sunday morning.
Launt hopes the event will be a fun way to celebrate the patrol’s work, and also to increase awareness about the organization’s presence. If all goes well, it could even yield future ski patrol members. “We could always use a few good men and women; there’s a number of us who are getting a little gray hair,” Launt said, laughing. “We can always use some younger legs.”
Despite his graying crown, Launt has no intention of retiring his skis anytime soon. He recently returned from a backcountry skiing trip in Idaho, and hopes to visit other slopes across the Northeast this season. It’s an expression of love for the sport, and also a matter of endurance. Patrol members commonly serve 20, 30, even 40 years on the slopes, continuing the legacy that Dole created 75 years ago.
“It keeps you young,” Launt said. “I hope. I’ll let you know.”
LabFest will be held Saturday, Feb. 16, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 17, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Labrador Mountain, 6935 Route 91, Truxton. For more information, visit labradormtn.com or call (607) 842-6204.