Walter Reichenbach – a local hero

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06.11.2019 | Winter · Ski

A local hero: Walter Reichenbach

Very few, if any, of the snowsports fans who relish winter on the slopes have any idea what it takes to make everything run smoothly at a ski resort. But at the Gstaad resort, Walter Reichenbach is the man who makes it all happen. He is, after all, the ski patrol. His working day begins at the crack of dawn when guests are still under their warm quilts dreaming of their best ever downhill runs.

Walter has been in charge of Gstaad’s ski slopes since 2006, and he loves his job. And because he is outdoors so much, he often gets to admire some of nature’s most magnificent spectacles with his own eyes. His working day is a long one, particularly in winter. Sometimes his duties take longer than expected, and sometimes they’re a lot colder, too. On one occasion two boys were missing after the slopes had closed. And it had started to snow. ‘We were able to locate the two lads quite quickly, but one of them had a nasty back injury,’ recalls Walter Reichenbach. ‘The rescue helicopter dropped the medic off just above the accident site, but had to fly off again more or less immediately. By then there were heavy snow drifts and the wind was gusting.’ Keeping calm is crucial in situations such as these. ‘We had to do a lot of improvising before we were able to get the patient to the emergency hospital some four and a half hours later,’ says Reichenbach.

As beautiful as winter in the mountains always is, it can be unpredictable. Walter Reichenbach has first-hand experience of the dangers that lurk in the mountains. One of his areas of expertise is using detonations to artificially trigger avalanches from a helicopter.

And he is usually one of the first responders on site if and when accidents occur on the slopes. He rarely knows what awaits him when he is dispatched on a rescue mission. First he has to assess the situation on the ground, secure the accident site, and administer first aid as quickly as possible. He then decides how best to transport the patient and takes charge of making them fit for transport.

There are 32 patrol staff on duty at Destination Gstaad. ‘Our team is all about friendly co-operation and knowing we can rely on one another.’ Each member of the patrol team carries equipment weighing around 15 kg. Plus another 12 kg if they’re detonating avalanches.

Their duties include checking conditions out on the slopes first thing in the morning. Has fresh snow fallen? What’s the avalanche risk like? Are all the piste markers and barriers still in place? Providing artificial snow, piste signage and padded crash-barriers are all part of the wide range of duties. And when things get a bit tricky, he always adheres by his motto: take the positives from every situation and try and rectify the negatives. That being said, he has never lost his respect for and his love of the mountains.