Learning Curve

At 11 years old, Emily Rutherford already has her heart set on becoming a doctor, and she’s not waiting until college to begin her studies. This middle schooler is getting a jump start on her medical training now, thanks to her involvement with the Junior Ski Patrol at Hermon Mountain. The all-volunteer group meets every weekend to sharpen their skiing skills and practice being first responders in an emergency situation on the mountain.

“I want to be some kind of doctor some day, and I really like getting my CPR certification and first aid,” she said.

This is the second year the Bangor resident has participated in Junior Ski Patrol. It’s a program that Hermon Mountain Ski Patrol Director Robert Bakker admits was formed by sheer coincidence.

“Four or five years ago, we ended up with a couple of kids that needed a little help or direction. They were causing trouble on the mountain and we said, ‘Let them ski with the ski patrol for a bit.’ At the time we weren’t really calling it a Junior Ski Patrol, but it reminded us that there are kids that really do want to do this. For these kids, it started out almost as a punishment, but it worked out. They had fun and they learned a lot,” explained Bakker.

Since then, Hermon Mountain has seen a tremendous amount of interest in the program from kids as young as 10 years old. The group, which meets from 1-4:30 p.m. every Sunday, is limited to 20 participants holding a season pass. Participants are also required to pay $105 for the course, and at the end of the eight-week session, Junior Ski Patrollers earn their first aid and CPR certification.

“The kids on the Junior Ski Patrol don’t really patrol at all,” said Jonnathan Busko, the medical director for Hermon Ski Patrol. “They are there for training. The students do their medical class work online during the week. Then on Sunday all they are doing are skills. They will either be in a formal ski lesson or they’ll be in the medical skill session for the first hour and a half. Then in the second hour and a quarter, they’ll either be with a ski patroller to learn how patrollers are always observing what’s going on, looking for hazards, and listening to the wheels on the lift or they’ll be in a skills session where we’ll be doing toboggan handling. We’ll eventually have them participate in a mock lift evacuation.”

Katrina Rutherford, Emily’s mom, is amazed at the commitment and time management skills these youngsters exhibit to participate in the program.

“They’re giving up their own free time at home and they’re studying, learning and taking exams. It just shows their dedication and love of being here,” said Rutherford.

While the medical training is interesting, lots of the participants admit it is harder than they thought, while others bask in the extra time the program gives them to be on the slopes.

“It’s very important we keep it fun for them. Their job is not to go out and save lives,” explained Bakker, “it’s that they have fun so they continue to do this when they get older.”

Hermon Mountain believes its Junior Ski Patrol program will continue to attract youngsters with each passing winter.

“One of the things the kids absolutely love is participating in what we call ‘sweep,’ where we close the mountain. At 4 p.m., the last riders go up the lift and then after that all the participants and patrollers go up and we’re the last ones down the hill,” said Busko.

It’s one of the many reasons Emily keeps coming back; to enjoy all the exercise and education the slopes have to offer.

“Living in Maine, you’ve got to find your thing, and Emily has an incredible capacity to want to help other people,” said her mother. “This is just a great venue for her to try out some of that and learn some skills. Her confidence has gone way up, too, being part of the group, which is always nice.”

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