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April became National Volunteer Month as part of President George H. W. Bush’s “1,000 Points of Lights” campaign in 1991, and today local volunteering opportunities abound. Volunteering offers a chance to give something back to the community and make a difference to those around them. It provides benefits to one’s physical and mental health, gives one a sense of purpose, and helps one make new friends. In the spirit of honoring year-round volunteering, let me tell you why each November I drive north to spend three months in a colder climate and volunteer for the ski patrol at a resort outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to help skiers safely enjoy their experience.
I learned to ski at an early age in Hungary when I rode a streetcar to the hills of Buda and hiked up the mountain to ski down rough terrain. Coming to America after the ’56 Revolution and discovering ski lifts, lodges that served hot chocolate, and buckle boots was like heaven to me.
When I saw fellow skiers in red jackets with first aid backpacks as they pulled toboggans and aided injured or disabled skiers, I thought it was a noble gesture and one that typified Americans’ generosity and care that I wanted to become a ski patroller, too. First came the rigorous training: first aid, the ski and toboggan skills test, learning to interact with injured skiers and boarders, investing in the latest ski equipment, learning about snow conditions that impact the terrain, and attending annual exercise refreshers.
I am now 79 years old, have been a patroller for 37 years, and have treated accidents as minor as sprained thumbs to head injuries resulting in concussions. I am committed to remaining a volunteer patroller for as long as I’m able. Here’s why:
The National Ski Patrol (NSP) organization is dedicated to keeping people safe on the mountain during outdoor activities. One of its core values is comradery among patrollers and forming lasting familial-like relationships. Our bond is special because it includes a sport we love, companionship, and helping others in need. The NSP family consists of hardy members who exercise their skills under adverse wind speeds, inferior snow conditions, and below zero temperatures while most of the guests they serve are anxious, cold, and in pain.
Secondly, the patrol bond is unique because it’s lasting. Many meet other patrollers, marry, raise junior patrollers, and spend an entire lifetime engaged in NSP activities. As a testament to our lasting bond and relationships, our slope recently lost a long-time patroller to leukemia. He was put to rest by a 60-person honor guard that presided over his funeral. As designated in his funeral plans, his ashes were spread at the top of the mountain at sunrise. In military-type precision, the patrol escorted the family, stood for a lengthy time at parade rest and saluted the memorial display of skis, helmet, boots and retired his jacket.
These are my personal reasons for volunteering as a ski patroller. Passion and positivity are really the only requirements for volunteering. Volunteering can result in some of the most fulfilling times in your life. Now that it’s April, I’m ready to store my equipment and drive south to Florida as the multitudes drive north. I will soak up that warmth and sun, jog, bicycle, swim laps, and sit in the library reading ski magazines while planning for the next season of volunteering.
Les Megyeri has been a long-time resident of Venice, FL, and is a retired US Army officer, lawyer, and CPA.