Earlier this year, the ski patrol at North Carolina’s Beech Mountain dedicated the resort’s “Chamberlin Express” rescue toboggan to Pete Chamberlin, the longest-standing active member of the National Ski Patrol (NSP). Chamberlin, who has literally been skiing since before he was born, first joined NSP in 1954, making this year his 69th year helping others on the slopes.
“I don’t ever remember a time where I wasn’t skiing,” Chamberlin said. “My parents were skiers, and while my mother was pregnant with me she skied in December 1938, and I was born the following May. So naturally I fell in love with the hobby, and I originally became a ski patroller because there was no line or cost for the ski lift.”
Chamberlin began patrolling in upstate New York at Drumlins Country Club, where they would set up tow ropes to get people up the mountain. He moved south in the 1960s when he was offered a job at Sugar Mountain Resort in North Carolina.
“When Sugar Mountain opened up, the initial ski patrol got a hold of me and said, ‘we understand you’re a patroller, we need your help,’” Chamberlin said. “Skiing the South was relatively new then and, to be honest, I thought I was going to have to give up skiing once I moved. I ended up working there until about (19)78 when I changed to Beech Mountain and never left.”
During his time patrolling Southern slopes in the late 60s early 70s, the American Red Cross decided to remove its advanced emergency medicine training programs. At that time, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) programs were just coming along, and Chamberlin ended up taking one of the first-ever EMT courses offered.
“It was taught in Hickory, North Carolina, and the whole course was only 80 hours back then,” Chamberlin said. “Now it’s like two, three times a week for about 35 weeks at least. And that’s dependent on what customized advances you add on.”
By the 1980s, the NSP decided to develop its own emergency care program known today as the award-winning Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) training program. The nationally recognized program was developed paralleling EMS’s curriculum and is still used today by many organizations. At the time, Chamberlin was a regional director overseeing many patrols in the Southeast and was involved in the development of the courses.
“We just basically took our first aid programs and wrote our own outlines and struggled for about a year and a half,” he explained. “Though it has taken off on a national level, it initially was a collaborative effort between regional directors, patrol leaders, and medical directors all trading information back and forth—all were involved in the beginning to getting it organized.”
Today, Chamberlin continues to serve the NSP from Beech Mountain’s Ski Patrol office and has noticed that as safety knowledge has advanced and ski gear has improved, there are fewer accidents than there were back when he first started patrolling and working on developing the OEC.
“It was just part of the contribution to the National Ski Patrol, it was what we did to make it better for the young people coming along or doing it now,” Chamberlin said. “The kids that are joining and working patrol now are so much better prepared than in the 50s in the 60s when most of your learning was by experience. Now we do an awful lot of that in the classroom so that when they go out on that first accident, they’re ready for it.”
The creation of the “Chamberlin Express” rescue toboggan offers permanent recognition of Chamberlin’s contributions to ski safety. The new sled not only is named after him but is numbered with his radio call sign, #10.
“The Chamberlin Express, I mean, that is an honor that floored me,” Chamberlin said. “Normally stuff isn’t named for you until you die. I won’t say it makes you feel old, but it does make you proud.”
Cover Photo: Photo courtesy of Beech Mountain Ski Patrol