I taught skiing in Vail for 13 years and almost without fail, my year-end evaluations included high marks for my focus on safety. Perhaps that’s because out-of-control skiers and boarders have hit me and frightened my students on more than one occasion. So while I try to focus my eyes downhill, I also keep my head on a swivel whenever I’m in crowded areas.
Being pretty good skiers, my wife and I stay off groomed runs as much as possible for the simple fact that off-piste skiing is less crowded and less dangerous — in my opinion. At the same time, I also realize many visitors to our valley come here to ski the miles of groomed slopes Vail and Beaver Creek mountains offer.
But regardless of where you ski, there are certain safety precautions everyone should be aware of. While I don’t have access to Ski Patrol records, it’s a pretty safe bet that out-of-control skiers and boarders (read: skiing or boarding too fast) are the prime culprits in causing collisions.
Sure it’s easy to scream down Lodgepole or Northwoods when those runs have been groomed and the sun is shining. But it’s also dangerous and increases the chances of getting hurt or worse, injuring someone else. The next time you’re tempted to “let loose” on a crowded run, ask yourself how might you feel if you collided with a 9-year-old child — I’ve seen it happen, and it’s an ugly sight.
I no longer work for Vail Resorts and it’s not my job to lecture anyone, nonetheless I thought I might offer a few suggestions about skiing or riding more safely. And as a bonus, I’ve followed these suggestions with a few tips to improve your skiing.
• When skiing or riding on catwalks, draw an imaginary line down the center of the catwalk, and then stay on one side or the other — it’s courteous to other skiers and you’re far less likely to get hit from behind when your “line” is predicable.
• And speaking of “lines,” i.e. your course down a run, a predictable line is the best insurance against being struck from behind. Erratic turns (a good friend of mine calls them “bat turns”) invite collisions.
• On “flat light” day,s ski closer to the trees on the side of the run — not only is the visibility better, but also you’ll usually find softer snow.
• When stopping during a run, do so behind an obstacle. Ski Patrol baffles and trail signs are great for this. Putting an obstacle between you and uphill skiers is always a wise mountain tactic.
• Screaming into a lift line at high speed doesn’t impress anyone — it’s dangerous and immature! And as an added precaution, you might give some thought to slowing it down 60 or 70 yards before reaching the lift line, especially in those wide open areas around Mid-Vail and Chairs 2 and 11
• Keep yourself hydrated — you’re in the mountains and dehydration causes fatigue.
• Don’t be afraid to download at the end of the day. When I was teaching, nine times out of 10 I downloaded my classes because, one, my students were tired and fatigue is a first cousin to accidents; two, the snow gets scratchier late in day, especially in shaded areas; three, it’s a great way to avoid the natural funnels taking skiers and riders back to the base of the mountain; and, four, too many crazies “push the envelope” on that final run of the day.
So now that you’ve been informed about safety, here are a few tips to improve your skiing (sorry boarders, I’m a one discipline man.)
• The only article of clothing that should be in your boots is one thin ski sock. Long underwear, foot liners, a second sock, powder cuffs or stretch pants etc., tucked in below the top of your boots are counter-productive to effective skiing.
• Keep a mental image of making rounded C shaped turns through the snow. Carved, skidded or blended, if your turns are rounded and C-shaped, you’ll always be in control regardless of the terrain.
• Proper balance is perhaps the most critical aspect of effective skiing. And the prime culprit in failing to remain in balance is flailing hands. To remedy this, focus on keeping your hands approximately waist high, 3 feet apart and 18 inches in front of your bellybutton — all the time — even on catwalks.
• On an easy run try this exercise to keep your upper body “quiet.” Place your pole(s) across the backs of your fingers all while keeping your hands waist high, 3 feet apart and 18 inches in front of your bellybutton. You’ll be amazed at the results.
• Do you want more stability and cleaner turns? Try drawing your “inside ski” back about 2-3 inches as you initiate your new turn. (When turning left, pull your left ski back; when turning right, pull back your right ski.) I promise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Quote of the day: “Enjoy yourself on the slopes and remember; the most important piece of safety equipment you own is your brain.”—L.S. Butch Mazzuca
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.