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Ski safety a winner with simple farm solution


A mix of Kiwi ingenuity, quality Gallagher product and farming practicality are keeping staff and skiers safer on a popular Australian ski-field.

Mel Potter is a ski instructor on the Thredbo ski-field, one of Australia’s most popular fields located in the Kosciuszko National Park in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

She splits her time over the seasons between the slopes of Thredbo over winter, early spring and the rest of the year bush guiding or helping on the field’s mountain bike course with first aid.

Mel’s passion for the outdoors is as strong as her love of sharing it with others, seeing them get the most of their outdoor experience, summer or winter.

Over winter that passion often has her responsible in her role as a first aid officer at the ski-field tending to plenty of sprains, breaks and bruises incurred by skiers and snow boarders.

Last winter she realised how much risk the ski patrol staff were putting themselves under when tending injured skiers. “You would try to get people passing to slow down around you, but just waving your arms in that situation is not that effective.”

She likens it to trying to slow traffic speeding past you on the motorway after your car has broken down. “The traffic just keeps going, and it’s even more dangerous if you step out too far.”

A proud Kiwi from the Waikato, Mel also has a strong streak of farm girl practicality she put to good use to help make a risky situation better. She found herself drawing on her experience growing up on a small block near Matangi where she reared calves, and working on farms during university holidays.

“I wanted a barrier you could erect easily in front of an injured skier while we were tending to them. I played around with a few ideas, including welding a step onto a steel pole, and soon realised what I was making was a fence standard!”

A quick trip to Mitre 10 soon had her with a bundle of Gallagher Multiwire Treadin posts, usually a more familiar site on green grass for break feeding than white snow for cautioning skiers.

“They proved ideal, with a step on them big enough you could just push them in without taking off your skis, and the strong steel point held well in the hard snow we get at Thredbo.”

The next step was to create a barrier anchored by the Treadins.

“That involved another trip to Mitre 10, and getting hold of bright orange construction barrier safety mesh.”

By running grommets down the edges of it and fixing it between two Treadins with cable ties, she soon had a light, portable and highly visible barrier for injury situations.

The Treadins feature multiple lugs, ideal for fastening the cable ties, and the 880mm post height is just right for the high visibility mesh used, and as an effective barrier.

The post’s flexible galvanised steel pole is encased in UV resistant plastic, meaning it could take the knocks from skiers who didn’t slow down in time, bending without incurring injury on contact.

“You can roll it up and carry it just like an umbrella, and we now have 25 of these around the field, including some near high accident areas like the chair lift, and on our emergency sled we tow on the field.

“It gives a bright, solid appearance against the snow, keeping skiers well clear.”

She has found the barriers invaluable in high risk areas like ski jumps, where tending a fallen skier can have the patrol person out of site from people coming over the jump.

“You can just whip it out at the top of the jump and know no-one will be flying over and landing upon you, which gives you peace of mind and the ability to focus on the job at hand.”

Mel has enjoyed the full support of the skifield owners AHL in developing and deploying her barrier design. Her ingenious efforts even earned her a work place award on the field, and she can see some “non snow” uses for her roll up barriers.

“When the snow is gone we have a mountain bike park here. It is the same thing looking after injured cyclists, you don’t want to be hit by another downhill cyclist any more than a skier. These can be put up around the cyclist to achieve the same thing.”