Isabela Otero’s dream becomes a reality

Senior Isabela Otero has been part of Bear Valley ski patrol since 2018


Photo courtesy of Isabela Otero

Isabela Otero stands near ski patrol equipment on the mountain at Bear Valley Ski Resort.

Besides being your normal everyday teenager, senior Isabela Otero is part of something many teenagers couldn’t even dream of: ski patrol.

Otero has shown interest in being part of the ski patrol at Bear Valley Resort – located about 150 miles east of San Ramon between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe – for quite a while. She accomplished this dream in 2018 when she officially became part of Bear Valley’s ski patrol.

“It was always something I wanted to do since I started skiing at the resort,” Otero said. “What made me really want to join was because it seemed cool and I tried out to see where I was in the skill range. The fact that I made it meant I was a good skier.”

A ski patroller is someone who is a first responder to the injured or ill on the slopes, providing immediate medical care and attention to them.  Usually this entails assessing the situation, treating the injured or sick as best they can and then transporting the person down the mountain to a first aid station.

Before being hired, ski patrollers have to demonstrate their skiing and medical ability. Ski patrollers must be able to ski anywhere on the mountain, no matter the condition, under control.

Otero came to this program with a strong set of skiing skills.

“She is a strong and balanced skier,” Thomas Pierucci, one of Otero’s instructors, wrote in an email. “Her youth spent in ski racing programs has given her a foundation of technique to continue to develop upon.”

Ski patrollers must also typically complete an emergency medical technician (EMT) or outdoor emergency care (OEC) course. Otero spent about two months last fall becoming a certified Outdoor Emergency Care Technician.

She said the certification focuses on outdoor care and transportation, and the training falls between that of an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

This side of medical care pushed Otero to join ski patrol.

“I’m really interested in the medical side of it and the fact that people look to you for help” Otero said.

And while ski patrollers help those who are in danger or injured, they are also susceptible to it as well. With adrenaline pumping through them as they rush to help, they too can get hurt the same way any skier can.

There may also be avalanches, where ski patrollers still must help the injured during this extreme case.

To transport people from the mountain to medical care, ski patrollers use a sled or toboggan. Because of the importance of being able to maneuver it, ski patrollers have to practice this skill.

Instead of using a typical dummy to ride the sled, other ski patrollers must ride it and allow another to pull them through the mountain.

“They put me in the sled frequently-which is pretty scary,” Otero said. “You have to learn to trust the person which is pretty hard if they’re new or something. You’re putting your life in their hands.”

Despite the fear of that at time, Otero continues to push and work herself harder and harder to become a better ski patroller. This is evident in many of her instructors’ eyes.

“She’s oddly grown more comfortable in her role and obligations and I have great hopes for her and in her future life,” Larry Lichtenegger, one of her instructors, said. “She’s a driven person.”

Driven seems to be the word to describe Otero best.

“She’s really driven to join the military and help the people and contribute where it be ski patrol or her future endeavors,” Chris Wrenn, another one of Otero’s instructors, said. “She’s not overly driven, but a kind-driven person”

Otero’s duties don’t come to an end at only ski patrol. She also runs the social media and outreach for the ski resort.

“I took over our Instagram and have at least tripled the followers” Otero said. “When it was time for tryouts, I had to come up with interesting posts and spread the word. Now I show interesting things through our story, live streams.”

As she goes through her years of being on ski patrol, Otero has experienced many memorable moments.

“My favorite moment was when I completed my first sled run with someone in it,” she said. “I was feeling like I didn’t do my best. However, when we got back to the top of the lift, Larry, the very critical instructor, was speechless and gave me a big hug because he was so proud of how I did, better than all the guys.”

Ski patrol has become a big part of Otero’s life, to the point where she doesn’t want to let it go.

“I will always return to ski patrol. If I go to college in California, I will most definitely continue through my four years of school,” Otero said. “It’s a volunteer position that never gets old and will always be a part of you.”

Clearly, ski patrol has made its mark on Otero just as Otero did on ski patrol.

“Ski patrollers are some of the greatest people you want to be around and Isabela fits right into that mold,” Lichenegger said. “So when you ask me ‘does she stand out?’ I say no, she fits right in.”

Angela Zhang is a Cal High sophomore who was part of The Californian staff last year. Pranav Sannassi contributed to this story.