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Helping to Carry the Load

For 60 years, Cascade Rescue Company has provided gear for life-saving rescues on the slopes
Rescuers on the slopes

The idea that would one day become Cascade Rescue Company came about in the Stevens Pass Ski Area in Washington state in the early 1960s. Victor Bradley was a volunteer patroller who was cold and tired after having just pulled in his fourth rescue toboggan, and he believed that there had to be a better way to save people.

So, in 1962, Bradley developed his first aluminum rickshaw-style toboggan and, after several years of testing and development, Cascade Toboggan was born – and the rest is history.

Now, 60 years after the original aluminum toboggan was introduced, Cascade Rescue Company (renamed in 2010 to better reflect the depth of its current line of products and services) has grown to become a leading manufacturer of rescue gear designed for those risking their lives to save others. Whether its for a fire department, ski patrol, search and rescue unit, emergency medical services unit, sheriff’s office or member of the military, Cascade makes equipment known for its durability, reliability and a proven track record of use in the field.

Person working on machinery
Cascade Rescue’s toboggans are all manufactured at their ISO-9001-2015 certified facility in Sandpoint, Idaho

Originally based out of Kent, Wash., Cascade was purchased in 1998 by relatives of the Bradley family – Dana and Susan Jordan – who took the company to the next level of innovation and quality, and moved operations to Sandpoint, Idaho, in 2002. In 2020, the company was acquired by Harken, a Wisconsin manufacturer known for its innovative sailboat hardware and accessories, which had – 10 years earlier – begun to enter the safety and rescue marketplaces. This significantly enhanced Cascade’s engineering, design and manufacturing capabilities. Justin Garland, who got his start with Cascade back when it was still located in Washington, is now the general manager of the company.

“On the lift operations side of things, we sell a wide variety of products made by other manufacturers to complement kits that we put together for patrollers, but our toboggans have become our bread and butter,” said former Cascade general manager and current Harken brand manager, Tom Wood. “And while we’ve been making toboggans since the 1960s, we’ve changed quite a bit in terms of design and the materials that they’re made out of. However, our focus on quality has never wavered and most ski hills and resorts across North America will have a Cascade toboggan as part of their operations.”

Meeting customers’ needs

While Harken has many engineers who all are highly skilled at laboratory testing and creating new products, Cascade’s real strength is in the research and development done where its customers are found – out on the slopes and deep in the backcountry.

The company recognizes that every ski hill and resort is different and will have its own challenges, so Cascade goes above and beyond to design and build sleds and rescue equipment that meet the unique needs of its customers. Due to this, Cascade has come to depend on the suggestions and feedback it gathers from the patrollers and rescue teams who use its products the most to make those products better.

“We want to know what our customers think, so we send our products to people and have them try to break it,” said Wood. “They send it back to us broken and we try to make sure it won’t break the next time and, eventually, we get to the point where it’s no longer (breaking). This is how we field test all of our products to make sure that they will function in the harshest environments and save lives, and our toboggans have stood the test of time, with many resorts still operating toboggans that are up to 25 years old – if not older.”

“Our focus on quality has never wavered and most ski hills and resorts across North America will have a Cascade toboggan as part of their operations.”

Tom Wood, Harken

Although the Cascade toboggan has evolved considerably since 1962, the company has maintained a consistency in the products it releases year after year. This consistency gives customers peace of mind that, when they require replacement parts or repairs done on a sled they purchased years ago, Cascade will have what they need in stock.

“We do change things as needed, but if a customer sends a Cascade toboggan for us to repair, they can be confident that when we send it back, it will be as good as new,” said Wood. “By the same token, if they are ordering parts or accessories they want to add to their toboggans, they know that those accessories will be compatible.”

Cascade’s customers have come to expect a level of service that is second to none, and the company prides itself on the ability to understand and anticipate the needs of its customers at a grassroots level. Therefore, whenever a customer calls about a product or has questions, they can rest assured they are speaking to a real person who knows what they are talking about and will get the answer that is right for them.

“Our customer service folks are intimately familiar with both the industries we serve and also the products we deliver, so our customers can be confident that they won’t be transferred to someone who can’t get them the answers they need,” said Wood. “We won’t steer them wrong.”

Training and education

Cascade works closely with the National Ski Patrol to help develop best practices for inspecting rescue litters and toboggans, as well as presents at conferences with various toboggan inspection and maintenance courses. In 2019, the company was instrumental in the development of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) guidelines for aerial lift evacuations.

In addition, for anything related to training in aerial lift evacuations, Cascade’s sister company – Elevated Safety – has that covered.

Safety patrol on ski-lift
In addition to their toboggans, Cascade manufactures the Hag Glider and Cable Glider for chairlift and gondola rescues

“Elevated Safety provides courses on things ranging from tower rescues and Society of Professional Rope Technicians training to aerial evacuation and rope rescue, and they continually develop and customize training courses to deliver the best and most up-to-date rope access knowledge available,” said Wood. “We have quite an extensive array of trainers located across North America who are all tremendously well-versed in lift operations and ski patrol style rescue using compliant gear based on the NSAA aerial lift guidelines we helped to develop.”

Since Cascade is located in the Pacific Northwest, many of its employees also tend to be avid skiers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. As such, the company tries to ensure that the environment is at the forefront of everything it does.

To that end, Cascade is constantly working to improve its manufacturing processes and equipment, and finding ways to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. The company also partners with sustainable vendors in addition to recycling raw materials and reusing packaging materials whenever possible.

“Each one of those things in and of themselves aren’t all that impactful but, put together as an aggregate, we feel we are doing our part to make our corner of the world a more sustainable place to work, live and play,” said Wood. “We understand that sustainability and our industry is always evolving, and Cascade Rescue Company will continue to do its best to change along with it, and maybe have some fun along the way.”