Kevin Hartka

Kevin Hartka celebrates with his family

It had been five years since I first sat at a seat at the certified annual banquet dinner. Five years since I entered into the certified program, drawn to the group of passionate patrollers and their camaraderie, and this was my third and last test year.

It was a long road of hard studying, training, and stressful, sleepless nights, broken by two years of COVID cancelations that stole my wind and faded my memories of my first year such that my second felt much like my first. But this was it; it all came down to this last year. I had to make it happen.

Though I felt well prepared and anxious to complete the three modules I had left, the thought of going down that road again began to feel awfully daunting. I had made many phone calls, pestered all the managers of the different departments at my mountain with my questions, and spent much of the year immersed in studying my remaining topics. I felt like I did everything I could do with my time, knowledge, and resources.

After one of the worst sleepless nights at the test in my experience going through the program, stressing over things I thought I may have missed in the first of my last three interviews, I rose the next morning much more ambitious than expected, and I felt strong in my last two interviews.

It was done! Or was it? So the mind battle began, silencing my fears, trying not to stress and go over what I may or may not have missed, imagining, and mentally preparing to start the whole three years all over again. Focusing on the present, I relaxed into the last few days with nothing to do but help out with the rest of the weekend and enjoy my time with the group while I waited to see the results.

It had been five years, with a two-year COVID interruption, and I was sitting at a table at another banquet dinner. This time, my fiancé and 4-year-old daughter were there with me as we enjoyed a delicious meal provided by Killington. As the plates emptied and the drinks began to rise, Jon Wilson took the podium to give his thanks and recognition to all who helped put together a successful event. And then it happened…

“Peter Neefus, can you come up to the front, please? Katie Demers, Can you please come up to the front?”

I was flooded with a wave of emotions; my palms began to sweat, and my eyes began to moisten.

“I would like to welcome our newest member, number 859, Kevin Hartka….please come up to the front.”

Kevin getting pinned by his fiancé

The room broke out in cheering and applause as I rose and proceeded to the front of the room, where my family and friends waited with my certificate and number and adorned me with a shiny new certified pin. The moment was such a tsunami of emotions I’m not sure I can clearly replay the rest of the evening but I’m pretty sure I either got a hug or a handshake from everyone in the room and a big congratulations.

It has been two weeks now since that momentous day when I received my number, and I have had time to reflect and digest what has been a truly incredible experience! The program has shaped and carved me into a better patroller, and will continue to do so. And I couldn’t have done it without the support of the people around me. It is a true honor to be part of this incredible group of patrollers!

I would like to express my sincere appreciation and thanks to those who supported me through this program. First and foremost, I would like to thank NSP for all their incredible programs that have brought me to where I am. Second, I would like to thank our chair, Jon Wilson, for his inspirational leadership and kind friendship. Without a solid leader, where would we be?

A special thanks to my mentor and friend, Peter Neefus, for showing me the program and helping me in every capacity he could. The amount of time and effort Peter put into helping me and other candidates get through the program is unparalleled!

I would also like to thank my patrol leader, Sue Hallenbeck, for putting up with my distractions during my shifts while studying, my likely annoying, at times, questions, and my constant push to learn about patrol leadership and outdoor risk management.

Justin Guth for giving his time to talk on the phone and help me through my hardships. For his support from day one, both as a friend and a leader!

Steve Suomala for his great friendship and countless phone calls. Steve pointed me in all the right directions and talked me down when times were tough.

Steve Barnes
David Childs
Linda Helms
Bill Zink
Gregg Pulver
Kerry Brousseau
Jay Brousseau
Kevin Lawler
And the list goes on…

Last but certainly not least, I want to thank my fiancé and family for putting up with my absence through this time. It has been a long haul, and I could not have done it without their support.

Kevin Hartka
Catamount Ski Patrol
Certified #859