Ski Patroller Nears 40-Year Milestone

Howard Trachtenberg, Quechee Ski Patrol member, is shown with his daughter Helaine Szabo.
Photo Provided

By Curt Peterson, Standard Correspondent
QUECHEE – Howard Trachtenberg, now 82, wanted to retire from the Quechee Club Ski Patrol a year ago, but Director David Courtney told him since he had been a valued member for 39 years, he should stay active another year and make it an even 40.
On his 80th birthday, the Trachtenberg family donated a weather station installation at the top of the ski trails. It contains a barometer, a temperature sensor, and a wind meter, and provides a link to the local weather forecast through the Quechee Club website. It also bears a plaque commemorating his birthday and his years of service on the Quechee Ski Patrol.
Now Trachtenberg, who is 82 and still skiing, has signed on for another year, in part because Courtney has had trouble finding willing volunteers to join the Patrol.
“Volunteerism is down,” Trachtenberg said.
This is backed up by several sources, including an April 2014 article in the Huffington Post – “Volunteering in the United States hit an all-time low last year,” Eleanor Goldberg wrote, particularly among educated Americans.
Courtney said small ski areas such as Quechee count on volunteer patrollers, while large ski resorts such as Killington have paid staff and medical facilities on-site.
Quechee relies on the paid Hartford Fire Department FAST Squad to respond to medical emergencies on the slopes.
“Usually, by the time we get an injured person to the bottom of the slope, the FAST Squad is there, ready to take him or her to Dartmouth- Hitchcock Medical Center,” Courtney said.
While the industry and the National Ski Patrol organization are pressuring ski patrol members to be certified for increasingly significant medical assistance for injured skiers, Quechee generally provides “stabilization and transport,” meaning they will, for example, apply a splint to a broken limb, then take the injured skier down the slope on a sled to meet the FAST Squad, whose members are trained medical technicians.
Several Hartford firefighters, all of whom have some paramedical training, volunteer as ski patrolmen at Quechee. Courtney said he has about a dozen volunteers on his roster, and there are three or four patrolmen on the slopes at any time.
He and one assistant have paid positions, and he has obtained funding for a second assistant. Volunteers cover Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, but Friday, the only weekday the slope is operating, Courtney and his paid staff act as the Patrol. There is daytime skiing only.
This isn’t the first time Trachtenberg has retired from the Quechee Ski Patrol – in 2000, faced with serious health issues, he resigned, expecting to never return. His daughter, Helaine Szabo, donated a kidney that saved her father’s life.
“Pretty soon I was feeling a lot better, so I signed up as a volunteer again,” he said.
Trachtenberg, a New York City native, attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and medical school at New York University, then did his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital in Boston as an anesthesiologist, a career he pursued from 1962 through 1997.
He didn’t take up skiing until his son and two daughters became interested and he and his wife Carol built a second home in 1971 at Quechee.
“The Quechee Ski Facility was the major draw for our coming there,” he said.
Trachtenberg soon realized there was no ski patrol service on the Quechee slopes, so he and a few other skiers suggested the Club do something about it. That was how he originally got involved.
Over the years, he and Courtney say, they have had relatively few injuries – mostly fractured femurs, back strains, and scrapes and cuts from collisions.
“I’ve had to bring one of my daughters and one of my grandsons down off the slopes,” Trachtenberg says, describing their injuries as minor.
He and Carol live in Hartland now – their children live in Philadelphia, New York and Aiken, S.C. He recently retired from the Dartmouth Hitchcock Assembly of Overseers and the Hartland Community Arts Board of Directors, and is still active as a Director at Greater Upper Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Asked if he will be adamant about retiring at the end of the next ski season, Trachtenberg said, “I may or may not be adamant about retiring, but my body feels like it might dictate the situation.”
He hopes that people who love to ski and have a little time will volunteer to fill his ski boots among the intrepid who patrol the slopes in the future.
“All the training is arranged, and the hill is open an average of 55 days a year,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s a great way to provide a needed service and you get to ski while you’re doing it.”

This article first appeared in the September 28, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.

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