An Interview with a Patroller: Silvan Büchel
Silvan Büchel is 33 years old ski patroller who has worked in the ski resort of Arosa Lenzerheide since 2003. As a father and a trained ski teacher, Silvan uses his every spare minute in the snow and fully trusts his Helly Hansen gear. Arosa Lenzerheide is 1 of the 60 resorts worldwide that kit out their employees in Helly Hansen gear.
How many Ski patrollers are currently working for your ski resort? How big is your team, when you are on duty?
Arosa-Lenzerheide occupies a total of 31 ski patrollers – 23 of them are on duty every day.
What exactly is the job of a Ski patroller?
The specific role as a ski patroller includes the preparation of the pistes so that our guests can enjoy skiing in a secure and safe way. Therefore, we set up and control the piste-markings and the fencing off. An important part of our work is the safeguarding of the pistes from danger – for example, the blowing up of avalanches. Naturally, we control the pistes every evening and we are also responsible for skiers or pedestrians in the ski resort, which are involved in an accident.
We prepare the pistes so that our guests can enjoy skiing in a secure and way, with minimum accidents.
What are the skills that a ski patroller needs to have and what are the requirements for someone who wants to take on this professional path?
It is crucial to be a talented skier and to enjoy the winter weather. As emergencies are part of the job, some medical experience is also needed. Personality wise, it helps to be empathetic and compassionate towards a person in distress, so the basic skills of a Samaritan are a prerequisite in the job. The more explosive part of the job, blowing up avalanches, takes a lot of training and experience!
How long have you been a professional ski patroller?
Tell us a bit more about a typical Ski patroller’s working day
Before the first gondola goes up, we are out there preparing the pistes for the winter athletes. During the day, we are doing control-rides and holding ourselves in readiness in case of an accident. When the day draws to a close and the skiers are back in the valley, we run through the end control so that the piste-machines can start their work.
….. and an untypical one?
Suddenly the phone rings during dinner, it’s an emergency call; a ski mountaineer didn’t arrive at home. We start our search in dense fog, find him trailing through the snow, completely exhausted and we bring him home safe and sound to his family.
What do you love most about your job?
The feeling of being the first on the piste is very special to me, being surrounded by the untouched nature in the mornings. In these certain moments, I’m in total harmony with nature. Furthermore, I love the gratitude of the people who need our help and the thankfulness of their relatives when we return them home safely.
As a ski patroller, what risks do you face every day?
My work takes places in high mountains– this exposes me to danger. Sudden temperature drops, avalanches, or rescue missions can cause life-threatening situations for the ski patrollers on duty.
How do you secure the free riders who go off-piste?
We point out the current avalanche situation to the “variant riders“ and try to draw their attention to the possible dangers. At the starting points, locating-device checkpoints are available in case free riders get buried by an avalanche.
What are your most important security tips – on the slope and off-piste?
On the piste, it is important to adapt the speed to your skills and to respect other winter sport athletes. Off the piste, it is important to be well prepared and to never blindly trust other free riders. This includes a realistic self-assessment, safe equipment and knowledge about possible dangers.
For each of us, the notion of feeling alive is triggered by different experiences.
Can you share a special “feel alive” moment that you have experienced in your professional career as a ski patroller?
I feel most alive when I set out for the sunrise, ready to start my day of work. It is a special atmosphere and a unique feeling when I catch the first sun-rays above the mountain peaks.
Does being in the outdoors and working in the mountains help you have more “feel alive” moments?
I normally have a lot of these moments, because I love working in the mountains and in the winter. As my profession takes place outdoors, in the beautiful mountains, I have unique possibilities; I can be the first and the last one on the mountain, I drive a snowmobile through breathtaking terrain, I am able to blow avalanches, and I can be in untouched, deep snow every morning – these are my daily “feel alive” moments.
How many hours a day and how many days per season do you work in the snow?
I am out in the snow for 7 months of the year- from Mid-October until the start of May, from sunrise to sunset…and this is just for work. I also spend my free time in the snow.
In your job you spent most of the day outside, facing the elements. What are your requirements regarding your daily work clothing?
For my daily tasks, the gear must be robust. Of course the garments should also be breathable, wind-proof and weather-proof – these functions are indispensable up in the mountains.
How has the clothing evolve over the years?
An essential change has been the layering system. In the past, warmth and weather protection elements were designed in the same jacket, whereas today, we layer different clothing items to maximize protection and warmth. I definitely prefer the new layering system.
What do you like the most about Helly Hansen? What is your favorite Helly Hansen product– and why?
Helly Hansen products are unbelievably robust. My favorite product is my old jacket- I’ve worn it 3 winters in a row and it still fulfills all requirements. Proper care and cleaning prolong the life span, so it is important to take care of your gear.
Ten years later and Silvan still enjoys working as a patroller in the ski resort of Arosa Lenzerheide.
Photo credit: Rico Kühmin
Hiking up in deep snow can be very challenging, but Silvan never stops appreciating the feel of fresh powder.
Photo credit: Rico Kühmin
Silvan enjoys being the first one on the slopes every day and treasures the stunning views at sunrise.
Photo credit: Rico Kühmin