Patrolling During COVID + Honoring 35-years for Ralph Nelson

Pajarito Ski Patrol and COVID-19 

Pajarito Ski Patrol are accustomed to encountering challenges at Pajarito Mountain. From unpredictable weather to slick slopes, the patrol takes most challenges in stride. Not, however, when it came to handling COVID-19. When the obstacles arose related to emergency response during the pandemic, the patrol rose to the considerable challenge. 

The group, composed of 70 volunteers and a handful of paid patrollers, began meeting in early summer 2020 to plan for the changes necessary to patrol safely. The group consulted with longtime patroller Dr. Robert McClees, current Medical Director of the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol and owner of Trinity Urgent Care to discuss COVID preparations. “It’s been a tremendous team effort,” said Paid Ski Patrol Supervisor Eric Schaller, who also serves as a researcher with UNM Hospital. “We put together some comprehensive protocols to protect our patrollers and guests.” 

The team reconfigured the Aspen House, patrol headquarters to separate people. They also began collecting PPE and developed a tiered system for its use, reserving precious N95 masks to treat symptomatic patients. “Having this plan in place, and putting the safety of our patrollers and the patients first has been paramount,” said Schaller. “It’s been a yeoman’s task, and I’m extremely proud of the collaboration of our entire team.” 

With about half of the season already through, Schaller is adamant about the public’s compliance with the public health orders regarding masks and social distancing. “People need to understand that it’s a requirement for us to have a season. Just wear the mask. All the time — and keep your distance from those not in your party,” he said. 

Pajarito Mountain Ski Patroller Ralph Nelson, center, receives his 35-year service award in April 2019. Also pictured are, from left, Patrol Director Bill Purtymun, Elaine and Ralph Nelson, Heidi Rogers and Asst. Patrol Director Denny Hjeresen. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Celebrating 35 Years on Patrol

Congratulations to Ralph Nelson, one of the Ski Patrol’s longest serving patrollers. He’s been part of the team for more than 35 years. He began his ski patrol career at Grand Targhee in Idaho before becoming a vital part of the crew at Pajarito. 

Ralph remembers that when he first came to Pajarito Mountain. “Everyone did something,” he said. “There were several groups; one group was involved in cutting down trees and creating ski runs, the Boy Scouts cooked hamburgers and hot dogs, I chose to continue in ski patrol.” 

Ski Patrol has been an adventure, and Ralph recalls one spill he took on “I Don’t Care” wearing the older “brick” size Motorola radio on his chest. “That radio left a literal impression on me,” he said. “From then on, I started wearing it on my side.”

In addition to responding as a ski patroller, he has also served as an instructor in Outdoor Emergency Care, Skiing, and Toboggan Handling. He has also taught many of Pajarito’s instructors through the National Ski Patrol Instructor Training Program. 

Ralph and fellow Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrollers at NSP National Days at Ski Cooper, circa 1980.