Approaching the last few switchbacks to the top of Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, striking views of Flathead Lake peek out from every turn.
Blacktail is one of those old-school ski areas, the kind that reminds you of the roots from which skiing and snowboarding evolved. The atmosphere is one of the highlights that Blacktail Ski Patrol Assistant Director Colyne Hislop looks forward to every day.
“You kind of fall in love with the place, the people and the atmosphere,” Hislop said.
“From driving up in the morning and seeing the awesome sunrise, to getting to work with an awesome crew of people, to the (fact) that it’s family owned and family oriented…” Hislop trailed off, clearly consumed with love for her home mountain.
Blacktail’s family friendly style is welcoming to all ability types and riding styles; it really is a community, she said.
“I learned to ski on this mountain. I’m extremely happy to be here patrolling it now,” lead ski patroller Camas Garnett added. “It is family run, it’s just a giant community. It’s a really, really great place to come to work every day.”
Hislop and Garnett are part of a nonprofit ski patrol at Blacktail Mountain that is actually a quick response unit with the county. All 13 patrollers on the roster are certified EMTs, three are paramedics and one is a nurse. Hislop herself is not only an EMT, but has a bachelors degree in sports medicine.
With this much medical experience on staff, Blacktail’s visitors are in good hands should anything go wrong on the mountain. However, because the ski patrol is nonprofit, they rely heavily on raising funds to support operations.
On Presidents’ Day this extensive community will come together as Blacktail Ski Patrol puts on its annual poker run fundraiser, one of its most successful fundraising efforts of the year. The day is promised to be full of Hawaiian-shirt inspired spirit, enjoyable games and tasty snacks.
Across the mountain ski patrol will set up five different stations and participants will go to each station to find a warm fire, family games and collect cards that hopefully make up one of the best poker hands by the end of the day. The top three card collectors will win prizes.
Patrol also spends all year collecting donations from businesses to round out its extensive list of raffle prizes. This year’s prizes include two snowboards, skis, gear and more.
Along with all of these activities provided, Hislop and Garnett agreed the treasure hunt for the oddball garden gnome is a crowd favorite. Each year the ski patrol finds a garden gnome that fits the event’s theme and brainstorms a hiding place with a riddle that will lead participants there.
“The gnome was a goofy idea that turned into a wonderful practice,” Garnett said. “The kids definitely get really excited about it. We’ve got a few that hunt real hard all day. We have to make sure we consistently find good hiding spots so it doesn’t go too easy.”
This year’s figure features a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing gnome riding a pink flamingo. The prize for this event is the gnome itself; it is sort of a trophy really.
This fundraising event is designed to be a roaring good time for all, but according to the patrollers it is critical for ski patrol to keep operations going.
“We just want to be able to provide the highest quality of care for our patients and this is the best way that we know how to do it,” Garnett said. “We want to be able to have the right and best gear to protect people on the mountain.”
Hislop added that the patrollers make a wish list of equipment and supplies every year, and hope their fundraising efforts allow them to upgrade old equipment and expand their patient care. On the top of the list this year is a new toboggan, scoop stretcher, wheel chair and various safety parameters.
With funds raised from this event and other various efforts, Blacktail Mountain Ski Patrol can fulfill its top goal, which is to protect people on the mountain and be able to respond appropriately when an accident happens.
With its upside-down layout, that is the parking and lodge is on the summit, the mountain can be tricky for ski patrol to handle an injury. Hislop said they are always training and thinking of things before they happen.
The quirky setup of the mountain is just one thing the ski patrol has adapted to, but Garnett said he also thinks it makes Blacktail an even more memorable mountain.
“I know there’s not many (upside-down mountains), especially in Montana,” Garnett said. “So that’s a fun thing for people to experience. It’s a great time for anyone who comes up, people who ski and don’t ski alike.”
Hislop added, “I think it’s a little hidden gem.”
Reporter Whitney England may be reached at 758-4419 or firstname.lastname@example.org