Good Life

Q&A with Ted Hovermale

Ted Hovermale is the Volunteer Ski Patrol Director at Tussey Mountain Ski Area.  Hovermale has been working at the mountain for the past 19 years.  CDT/Nabil K. Mark
Ted Hovermale is the Volunteer Ski Patrol Director at Tussey Mountain Ski Area. Hovermale has been working at the mountain for the past 19 years. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

When the snow falls, Ted Hovermale makes sure skiers stay upright.Hovermale, 55, of Flemington, watches over the Tussey Mountain Ski Lodge slopes as the Penn State Outing Club Ski Patrol director, a post he has held for 18 years. He’s also a manager at a local feed and hardware store, but this time of year, he doubles as a winter lifeguard, promoting safety and providing emergency care from the bunny to the black diamond runs.

How did you get involved in patrolling?I started skiing when I was in junior high school. And then, when I came here to go to Penn State, I got involved in [Pleasant Gap’s] volunteer fire company, became an EMT and ran the ambulance and fire service. After many years of doing that, I was looking for something different and got out of the fire service and got involved with the ski patrol.What does the ski patrol do?Ski patrol is basically responsible for skier safety, emergency care and rescue as needed by skiers. We also serve as public relations for the resort and try to make sure people have an enjoyable skiing experience.What does that part involve?When we’re riding the lift, we talk to people about how they’re skiing today. What are your likes? What are your dislikes? Has it been a good day at Tussey for you?Do patrollers have any enforcement duties?As an overall part of skier safety, yeah, you want to try to maintain safe slopes at all times, and if there’s activities that are not [safe], then we take corrective action, and management makes the ultimate decision. We involve management in that, and they make the decision whether the person is going to be expelled or not.Years ago, and still at some ski areas, ski patrol served more as a police force. And we’ve tried to get away from that image as a patrol and be more a friendly, service-oriented patrol, here to help the skiing guests. And not only emergency care. I mean, we’ll do such things as, somebody gets talked into going up the chair lift when they’re not of the skiing ability to be up there. So they’ll get up there and now they’re in over their head. We’ll put them in a toboggan and ride them back down to the bottom. ... Some of them are just so scared, they don’t even want to try. Sometimes, we’ll allow them to try but they fall so many times they finally give up. ... Then we try to encourage them to ski within their limits and not be led by peer pressure or whatever got them up there in the first place. ... So we try not to be policemen.Have you ever had to administer emergency care?Oh, that’s our primary function, definitely.Can you recall a particular moment?I’d rather not do that. That’s not a positive aspect of skiing. I mean, we provide emergency care as needed.Well, what’s one of your favorite moments in general?Just the overall enjoyment of being able to help the skiing public and provide the emergency care and rescue services as needed. That’s a lot of the satisfaction.What do you enjoy about the job the most?I enjoy being outside. I love to ski, and I love helping people. So all three come together. ... I think the biggest satisfaction comes when there is an emergency and the patrol performs as they’re trained, and the person gets transferred through the emergency-care system, then comes back and thanks us and is out there skiing again. What’s the training for patrollers?You need to be a strong, intermediate skier. You need to pass a ski and toboggan test. You need to complete an outdoor emergency-care course, an OEC course, that’s administered by the National Ski Patrol system. And you need a professional rescuers CPR card. You serve a year as a candidate on a patrol, and if you pass all the necessary tests, and your attitude and willingness to work fit in, you move up from a being a candidate to being a patroller. What’s the toughest part?There isn’t really any part. ... We’ve got a lot of good people. We’ve got a lot of people with a lot of years of service, and every shift has a shift leader. And most of the problems are handled by the shifts. It’s not a hard organization to run. ... We have operating guidelines. Good people make it run, I think is the biggest thing. Everybody who’s there wants to be there for their own personal reasons. ... And once you’re a patroller, there are benefits.What are those?Well, there are discounts for your families, to ski at Tussey. Other areas will extend discounts. By being a member of our patrol, you’re also a member of the National Ski Patrol, or I should say, you’re a member of the National Ski Patrol, with us as your home. And the National Ski Patrol is tied to many corporate sponsors — ski manufacturers, Subaru cars. I mean, I think we get a $500 or $1,000 off your best deal off any Subaru. What do you like about skiing?Again, it comes back to being outside. I enjoy winter. I enjoy cold weather. Skiing is a lifetime sport. You can learn something new every year, and you can be as adventurous or as laid-back as you want to be. You don’t have to ski black diamonds all day. You can ski greens and blues and have a good time.