Blue Knob Started Out As A Radar Station
The 772nd AC&W Squadron began operations at Blue Knob in April 1952. The site was deactivated in 1961, and the squadron and the site designation relocated to Gibbsboro, New Jersey (RP-63 / Z-63), a shared Army Nike long-range radar site
Geography and Early Ski Area History
The old growth forest in the Blue Knob, PA area was clear cut in the 1930’s and opened by the National Park Service in 1935 as a National Recreation Demonstration Area. The Civilian Conservation Corps reforested the area, transferring it to the State of Pennsylvania in 1945, which opened it to the public as Blue Knob State Park. Blue Knob, the second highest elevation in the PA Allegheny Mountains @ 3146 ft and rising 500 ft above the plateaus to the west, made an attractive site for the Air Defense Command, Claysburg Air Force Station, 772d Radar Squadron Aircraft Warning and Control Squadron from 1952-1961.
The mountain also provided an excellent site for a ski resort and a boost to the local economy when the Air Force Station was closed in 1961. The PA Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources created the Blue Knob Ski Area (now Blue Knob All Seasons Resort) in 1962 using both leased State Park land and adjoining private land. An interesting set of trails were cut that fully utilized the terrain relief for skiing, lifts were installed, the former Air Force Station Buildings were converted to support the ski area, and skiing began.
The National Ski Patrol operated with Ski Club Ski Patrols at the time and the Ski Club of Washington, DC and it’s Ski Patrol provided patrollers for nearby ski areas on weekends. Hence, most of the early patrollers were from the DC area.
Wikipedia Blue Knob State Park & Claysburg Air Force Station
Characterizing the Early Years and Major Changes
All buildings were located at the summit creating an upside down resort. Patrollers lodged in the Air Force barracks basement and the Ski Lodge was created out of the Air Force administrative and mess building. A cement radome foundation marked the entry to the beginner slope.
The intense winter microclimate of the 60’s and 70’s and the necessity of transporting injured skiers uphill created demanding operating conditions for the patrol. The elevation and aspect contributed to the wind, low temperature and high snowfall. Two super storms, one in the 70’s and one in 1993 stranded patrollers and skiers at the Summit for 2 days before roads were cleared allowing the area to reopen.
Major improvements were made in the 1980’s and 90’s when two triple lifts were added for the Beginner Hill, and the new Expressway Trail. Additionally the Deer Run Trail was added along with Stembogen bowl, the Terrain Park, and several Glades that are unique to Mid-Atlantic Ski Areas. Improvements in snowmaking and grooming significantly improved the skiing.
Skis were long and required considerable technique to turn. Head had just introduced metal skis and several years later, the fiberglass ski was introduced.
Binding and boot fit were customized and there was no international DIN standard. Wool, nylon shells, down and synthetic linings were popular as there was no Gore Tex or synthetic base layers.
Front engine cars with rear wheel drive were constantly challenged to climb the mountain in the morning. Restarting at the end of the day was frequently an ordeal. Most patrollers traveled with chains, starting fluids and wire dry to deal with the conditions. The VW was a popular vehicle although it lacked heater performance. This is a contrast to the fuel injected front wheel and all wheel drive vehicles of today.
Injured skiers with minor injuries were brought up on the lifts. Snow cats were used for back boarded patients. Toboggans included Akias, Shur-Stops (for Extrovert), and Sun Valleys. Cascade began replacing these in the 1970’s and have remained the toboggan of choice. The advent of the snowmobile as a workhorse for returning injured skiers to the summit has been a major advancement. Limited volunteer ambulance service evolved to a 911 Call Center with BLS/ALS service including Life Flight Helicopter support, weather permitting.
American Red Cross was the first aid standard in the 60’s with an Advanced Course added in the 70’s. CPR was included as the Red Cross and American Heart Association developed the course. These were replaced by NSP sponsored Winter Emergency Care (WEC) and Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC), an outgrowth of the US Department of Transportation nationwide EMT system.
First Aid refreshers were created with guidelines from NSP and conducted outdoors for many years until NSP instituted standardized performance driven indoor OEC refreshers. Skier accidents were reduced over the years as ski equipment, snowmaking, and grooming improved. First Aid Room equipment was initially limited to wooden backboards and muslin roller ties, leg quick splints, cardboard splints, Thomas half ring splints and supplemental oxygen. Improvements include plastic backboards with quick disconnect straps, AED’s, Sager and Kendrick splints, battery powered suction devices, oxygen saturation monitoring, etc.
Lift evacuation was done using goldline or skyline rope and a body belay. The introduction of the line saver over the cable represented a significant improvement in the technique. BKSP innovated the use of cylinder shaped sand bags to install a sender line followed by the evacuation line over the cable. This technique evolved to the use of kernmantle static rope and a figure 8 belay with sender line installation supplemented by the use of a Line Gun. Self-evacuation began with a carabineer and seat belay evolving to the figure eight belay technique today.
Search and Rescue was covered during annual refreshers and Mountaineering Courses were taught on the Mountain, which included a two-day overnight exercise. Protocols were improved which included work with local rescue groups and continue as an important Patrol capability.
Communications relied on hard line phones at the lifts and evolved to a radio system with all on-duty patrollers operating with hand-held radios, a summit Patrol Room base station supported by summit and valley receivers, which resulted in a significant improvement in accident response.
Mass casualty incident response was practiced periodically at the annual refreshers. The National Incident Management System was later incorporated as the standard with other rescue groups in the area and enable interoperability.
There was always an emphasis on safety in all aspects of ski area operations and the introduction of a Risk Management approach by the National Ski Areas Association raised the level of safety performance including continuous identification of risks, their assessment, and implementation of mitigation approaches.
Ski Area expansion in the 80’s and 90’s included the addition of lodging, a golf course, tubing park, swimming pools, restaurants, and Nordic and mountain bike trails which brought additional areas of coverage for the Patrol.
The Patrol Organization changed in the 60’s to one based on individual ski patrols for each mountain operating with first aid, rescue, and training standards established by the NSP. A Hill Leader system for daily patrol operations was instituted in 1977. Additionally, there was an initiative launched to develop more patrollers who lived in the Blue Knob area to support the expanding weekday and night operations and provide a better geographical balance of patroller support. The patrol averaged 50-60 patrollers with a 10% turnover and a candidate-training group of about 5-6 for an 8 week training season. Also, By-Laws were created in the 1970’s, which organized the governance of the Patrol.
The patrol produced many Senior level Patrollers (a step above Basic Alpine) over the years and supported the Regional Program with Senior Ski & Toboggan and OEC Examiners in Clinics and Testing.
The Young Adult Patrollers (YAP) age 15-18 have always been an integral part of the Patrol with many YAPs coming from patroller families. The YAP have consistently participated in competitions in the Eastern Region and have performed very well. Six patrollers were awarded National Appointments and one patroller, Doug McCormick became the National NSP Treasurer (1991-1999). Doug is also one of 32 US patrollers to receive the Minnie Dole Award over the 75 plus years of the National Ski Patrol System.
Throughout the years, two of the constants that remain are Blue Knob as the “Skiers Mountain”, and the Camaraderie of the Patrollers in the conduct of the services they provide.
This extremely rare award recognizes those exceptional few patrollers who, over the years, have closely exemplified the long-term dedication, devotion, and self-sacrifice of the founder of the NSP, Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole. The winner of this award must be an NSP patroller who has at least 30 years of active patrolling service, is registered as an active patroller at the time of nomination, has provided continuous leadership for more than 15 years, served in a variety of offices/advisorships from NSP Patrol Representative through Division and/or national levels, and has designed and implemented a program, project, and procedure that have had an overall positive impact on the entire National Ski Patrol.
Since the creation of the Blue Knob Ski Patrol, it has been a part of the National Ski Patrol (NSP) system. The Patrol is part of NSP’s Eastern Division and a member of Eastern Division’s Western Appalachian Region. All of the Patrol’s volunteer staff are members the National Ski Patrol. Members are variously certified at the Candidate, Patroller, Alpine Patroller, Senior, or Certified level.
Blue Knob’s professional staff (paid patrollers) are members of Professional Ski Patrol Association (PSPA), Association for Professional Patrollers (APP), NSP, or have been selected by area management for special skills. The PSPA was formed in 1965 to provide high level credentialing (Certified Status) for paid ski patrollers in the Eastern part of the United States. APP was originally dedicated to training, educating, and credentialing full time professional patrollers in the Western U.S. Since then, it has opened up its training and credentialing to part time professional patrollers and volunteers anywhere in the United States.
Two Blue Knob paid patrollers became PSPA Certified Patrollers in 2007.
In the fall of 2009, members of Blue Knob Ski Patrol’s Professional Staff became members of the Association for Professional Patrollers (APP). Currently, one Blue Knob Ski Patroller is partially certified by the APP.
In the fall of 2004, the Pro Patrol Staff all became National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR) Technicians. In 2008, all new volunteer patrollers were required to receive this Technician certification through NASAR. NASAR is training and credentialing organization that provides certification throughout the United States.
In June 2010, Blue Knob Ski Patrol became the first ski patrol in the United States to become an affiliate member of the Mountain Rescue Association. Currently, several individuals in the Patrol are training to have Blue Knob Ski Patrol certified as a full MRA team.