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Friday, 03 January 2014 08:04

Safety on the slopes in Lake Geneva

Written by  Ian Gronau/Walworth County Sunday
Chuck Sommers is a National Ski Patrol member as well as a skiing instructor at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva. He suggests that those who are new to skiing take a lesson or two before hitting the slopes. Chuck Sommers is a National Ski Patrol member as well as a skiing instructor at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva. He suggests that those who are new to skiing take a lesson or two before hitting the slopes. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY — If an accident on the slopes sends you tumbling this ski season, you may earn yourself a ride down the hill on Chuck Sommers’ toboggan.

Whether it’s someone trying to catch themselves from falling and landing on their wrists, twisting their knees too hard or just flat-out crashing, it’s just another day at the office for Sommers.

After a nasty spill, he is just the guy you want to see, because after 20 years as a National Ski Patrol member on the Grand Geneva mountaintop, he has seen it all.

“Some of the most common injuries are to the wrist or knee,” Sommers said. “It happens often with snowboarders.”

Most days you can find the Genoa City resident working his day job at the Grand Geneva Ski School and front desk of the Timber Ridge Resort, but around this time of year he spends a lot of his time at the mountaintop, ready to jump onto the slopes at a moment’s notice. Sommers not only has the benefit of experience to offer a guest in need, but fairly extensive training as well.

 “To get into Ski Patrol, you have to go through OEC, outdoor emergency care training, which is basically first aid training,” Sommers said. “After that there is ski training and toboggan handling training. If someone is injured out on the ski hill we have to bring them back to our ski patrol room, and we have to know how to properly use a toboggan for that. We are considered first responders.”

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The snow may be soft and fluffy, but you can still fall hard. Sommers recommends that first-time skiers take a class at Grand Geneva, and veteran skiers exercise caution, but he is quick to point out that should an accident happen, they are there to take care of you.

“We had a family staying over at Timber Ridge and their little boy fell pretty good on the ski hill. He twisted his ankle up a bit and it needed to be bandaged, so we went up, got him and took care of it,” he said. “He was all right afterward and didn’t need to go to the hospital. We even sent a little goody bag up to his room with a stuffed animal and some candy, and that made him feel better.”

Ski season is officially in session, and mid-December marks the beginning of the peak season for Walworth County ski hills such as the Grand Geneva and Alpine Valley. 

Grand Geneva offers snowboarding and snowshoeing in addition to skiing. Alpine Valley offers skiing and snowboarding as well over its 90 skiable acres with 20 runs and a vertical drop of 388 feet.

Even though Mother Nature, so far this season, has been helping Walworth County out in the snow department, the slopes still had their snow guns blowing last month.

“We have a few different types of snow-making guns; most of them are big fans that work by blasting water that’s been pumped to the fan with compressed air to shoot it into the air, where it freezes and comes down as snowflakes,” said Hans Hauschild, snow sports director at Grand Geneva.

Hauschild said the season usually runs from mid-December to mid-March depending on conditions. In addition to the updated terrain park with its jumps, rails and other features, this year the Grand Geneva unveiled its redesigned rental room. The ski hill also offers programs for young first-time skiers.

“We have a very good children’s program here — it’s for kids between 4 and 14,” Hauschild said. “One program, our Snow Cubs class, is specifically for 4- to 6-year-olds and then the Mountain Lions program is for 6- to 14-year-olds.”

“Snow Cubs is just to get kids out there to have a good time and get familiar with the equipment.”

While most slopes have a few patrollers on staff, the majority of the teams are volunteer. For talented skiers interested in helping out, you can contact your local ski hill or visit the National Ski Patrol website at www.nsp.org.      

If you decide that downhill skiing isn’t your thing, there are opportunities for cross-country skiing throughout the county, including trails at the Grand Geneva and multiple options in Kettle Moraine State Forest. But if you do hit the slopes this season, exercising caution and following some simple tips will ensure that you are safe while having fun. Sommers offers these suggestions:

“I always say, make absolutely sure to dress appropriately. That means full coverage and layers — especially on those bitter cold days,” Sommers said. “If you are a first-time skier, I would also recommend getting lessons from a ski instructor, just to get you started off on the right foot.”

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