WSU nursing student selected for mountain rescue team at Beijing Olympics

Longtime ski patroller and soon-to-be nurse Daniel Voltz has more than passing his certification exam on his mind as he graduates with his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Washington State University this month.  

Voltz will leave for China on Jan. 20 to be part of the Mountain Rescue Service for the XXIV Olympic Winter Games. He’ll work six days a week supporting the alpine ski racing competition, then with a short break, doing the same for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games to follow. He’ll return to the Inland Northwest in mid-March.  

Voltz has been a ski patroller for a decade at 49° North Mountain Resort, near Chewelah, Washington. While working there, a request came through from the International Olympic Committee for patrollers with experience in World Cup ski racing, helicopter evacuations, and ropes and rappelling.  

“It was a yes to all of them,” said Voltz, 50. He has volunteered at World Cup races in Colorado, has climbed Mount Rainier and has participated in multiple helicopter extractions as a member of the ski patrol, he said.  

Those experiences, as well as his work in the emergency department of Providence Holy Family Hospital while a student at the WSU College of Nursing, helped him land the job, Voltz said.  

He added there were several hundred highly-qualified applicants for 26 positions on the IOC Mountain Rescue Service. The team includes ski patrollers from the U.S., Canada, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom, who will support a team of 250 Chinese responders. Incredibly, Voltz is one of two 49° North ski patrollers on the 26-member Mountain Rescue Service; John Huffstutter is the other.   

Voltz has been a skier all his life, but he didn’t decide on a nursing career until a serious illness prompted him to reevaluate his direction.  

“I owned and operated a Conoco gas station and convenience store for 18 years in Chewelah. Then I got lymphoma, sold the store and went through chemo and radiation,” he said. He knew he wanted to go into the medical field so worked as a medical assistant to evaluate his options. “I became drawn to nursing, did my pre-reqs through Spokane Community College, got into WSU, and two short years later, here we are.”  

He hopes to be able to fit in taking the NCLEX certification exam before he leaves for China, and when he returns, to find a job in an emergency department.  

“I like the idea that anything can happen any time in the ER, you never know what the day’s going to bring. In that regard it’s similar to running a gas station,” he said, laughing.  

Voltz and the Mountain Rescue Service will stay in the Olympic Village and work on the Xiaohaituo Alpine Skiing Field during training runs and competition.  

“These skiers are the best in the world, so they’re crashing at high rates of speed,” he explained. “We’re going to be supportive of major joint injuries, spinal traumas, internal bleeding and loss of consciousness. We’re responsible for packaging those people on the mountain and getting them out by helicopter.”  

The ski runs are so steep that the Mountain Rescue Service will rope up and rappel down to crashes, he said.  

Because of COVID, teams will work in a “closed-loop” system, with participants only being allowed to move between specific destinations with the same group of people. So no sightseeing, and no being a spectator in other competitions on his days off.  

No matter, Voltz said: “I’m hoping nobody gets hurt and if they do get hurt, I’ll be able to use my skills to help them.”