The art of delivering injured guests safely to the bottom of the mountain

A Ski Patroller’s most important activity is transporting injured guests to next level of care. In Australia, the sled used most commonly for this purpose is the Akja rescue sled. This sled looks like a canoe made from sheet medal, with long handles protruding from both ends. It is built and made by Tyromont in Austria.

Akja rescue sled

Picture of Akja rescue sled, picture from

Running the Akja is a two person job. One that requires strong skiing technique, good communication between Patrollers, and attention to detail. The focus in this exercise is to deliver the guest safely and in a timely fashion. This task can be difficult and physically demanding. Here are some tips and observations to help ensure that you are using good technique, and to improve your patrolling experience.

Fitness and skiing technique

To run an Akja effectively, you must first develop strong skiing skills.

  • You should be comfortable skiing anywhere in your given resort in all conditions. Quite often when running an Akja, you will have to run long pitches without a break.
  • Practice skiing long laps without breaking, building up stamina in your legs.
  • Be aware of the edges on your skis. Practice weighting your edges and side-slipping. Edge control is what gives you stopping power, stability on steep slopes, and is crucial when calling for a change in direction.
  • Always ski in an athletic position, bending from the hips and knees with your hands and torso facing downhill. This position will be the basis for operating the Akja.

If you are struggling with these concepts, talk it over with an experienced patroller, or see an instructor for a lesson.

Drill sergeant communications

Communication is integral to safe and effective operation of the Akja. The Patroller in front will call for changes in ski direction as the team makes it’s way down the slope. When a change is called for, the Patroller in the rear will take the weight of the Akja, allowing the front patroller to change direction ie: turn his skis.

Other important commands include “take weight”, “let run” and “lift”. The first two refer to how much breaking power is needed from the Patroller being called to. The lift call will be used when traversing a flat or bumpy and agitating section.

Patient comfort

It is also important to be in constant communication with the injured guest to ensure they are conscious, comfortable, and that no further harm is being caused by rough or careless handling. Granted every person has a differing threshold for pain and some will cry out regardless of how smooth the ride is. Use your judgement. Remember the goal is to get the guest down safely and quickly.

Generally, the more senior Patroller will be in the front of the Akja and therefor making most of the calls. However, the Patroller on the back must inform the front Patroller if they are losing control, or are unable to take weight. Communication is a two way process. The better you know your fellow Patrollers, the more freely you will communicate with them.

Sled Running tips

Additionally, there are a few more tips and rules to follow when running an Akja:

  1. never loose control. This is easier said than done. Conditions can be heinous. Poor visibility, icy conditions, steep slopes, rocks and trees and other hazards are all part of the challenge. If you do fall, call out to your partner immediately, and try to catch up and regain control ASAP.
  2. Never let go of the handles! This is the easiest way to loose control. The only exception is to avoid being seriously injured. An example would be to avoid collision with a tree or another skier.
  3. When travelling over flat or rough terrain, call for a lift if safe to do so. This will allow you to keep speed up in the flat sections, and avoid aggravating guest injuries in rough sections.

To master the Akja technique, make sure to practice often and challenge your limitations. Always practice with experienced trainers, and do not be afraid to tackle steep pitches or travel with heavy loads, with in reason of course. All this will better prepare you for the unpredictable situations you will encounter as a Ski Patroller, the most satisfying and exciting job on snow.