Near the intersection of the Loop and Bill Alberts trails, water puddled intermittently in all directions. Evergreen mountain laurel and ground pine were abundant, accenting the bare and brown hardwoods.
If puddles were all that remained of snow that had been here just days earlier, they also were a promise of what’s to come. For this was the first weekend in December. Winter hasn’t started yet.
The three dozen people who just had gathered at the nearby Laurel Mountain Warming Hut were planning for the snow’s return. These were members and volunteers of the Laurel Summit Nordic Ski Patrol, who serve the winter-public in a variety of ways from hospitality to hospital.
On this almost spring-like day, they had gathered over a pot-luck lunch to begin their preparations for a new winter-recreation season – and to recruit new volunteers. For they know that come crisp, brilliant-blue and -white weekends in January and February (and December and March), winter enthusiasts will flock here by the hundreds to ski and snowmobile, shoe, hike, bike and mush.
Owned by the Commonwealth but operated by the Ski Patrol, the Warming Hut is the social and operations center for winter activities atop Laurel Ridge off U.S. Route 30 above Jennerstown to the east and Laughlintown to the west.
Cured and cut firewood, stacked in a rack, lined the wall next to the old iron heating stove. On an adjacent wall was a fading poster bearing photographs illustrating the 40-plus-year history of the Laurel Summit Ski Patrol.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more relaxed, welcoming bunch of people. Comprised mostly of older adults, including several retirees, Nordic ski patrollers seek to serve in any way they can.
They train constantly on the emergency procedures they are most-likely to need on the mountain: staunching bleeds, splinting broken bones, dealing with hypothermia and performing search and rescue operations.
But most of their time is spent as a reassuring presence out on the dozens of cross country, mountain-biking and snowmobile trails atop the summit – answering questions, dispensing advice and providing directions.
Ski patrollers will be the first to admit, though, that their work requires a substantial commitment of time, as much for training as for patrolling. In their efforts to recruit others, they often hear how people have the desire but not the time to become Nordic ski patrollers. So several years ago, the Ski Patrol came up with the Mountain Host program.
Mountain Hosts are trained in the basics of first-aid, search-and-rescue, equipment repair, helicopter protocols, ski trail knowledge, and snowmobile and rescue sled preparations. While not expected to perform these emergency responses on their own, Mountain Hosts learn enough to be able to assist the patrollers.
Out on the trails, Mountain Hosts carry a pack that contains basic first-aid supplies, a CPR mask, a whistle, and other essentials that can come in handy out in the woods. They, too, can answer questions, dispense advice and provide directions.
Finally, there are Ski Patrol volunteers. Simply put, they operate the Warming Hut, so that Ski Patrollers and Mountain Hosts can be out and about. Very little training or time-commitment is required.
While the Warming Hut is open all season (people always are welcome to build a fire in the stove, warm up and relax at the picnic tables inside) on the weekends the Hut is staffed by people who keep the porch and toilet areas shoveled, sell food and beverages, maintain a fire in the heating stove and keep the toilets supplied.
The Laurel Summit Nordic Ski Patrol welcomes volunteers for any of these activities – and skiing proficiency is not a requirement. If interested, email LS_warminghut@yahoo.com for more information.
Now is the time to get involved, though. Those puddles are freezing, the evergreen soon will be robed in white. Serving winter-enthusiasts on the Summit will be a good way to stay warm.
To respond to this column – or read other columns by Dave Hurst – visit www.hurstmediaworks.com.
© 2018 Hurst Media Works.