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An odd relationship with safety

Alan Braunholtz

Safety Week raises its timely head to remind us that while “safety” doesn’t have the glamorous and fun image of say a Mountain Dew commercial, being hurt – or worse – puts a damper on life that no amount of soft drinks will change.Safety may not be the talk of the apres-ski scene – “I skied so safely today you should have seen it!” – but we all expect it in our lives. Through a combination of regulations, lawsuits and consumer choice, there’s an awful lot of thought, design and management by other people going into keeping us safe in our daily lives. So much so that when we choose activities where we are actually responsible for our own safety, we don’t realize it and act appropriately. Danger is part of the rush of risk taking.Any time a liability form materializes mentioning risk of injury, your primitive “prey” part of the brain should start cranking up with the adrenaline. Too often instructors or guides in the adventure sports arena hear the husband telling his wife to just sign and not worry, as “if it was really dangerous they wouldn’t let us do it.” Denial is never a good start to risk management, which is where Safety Week comes in. It’s not so much “don’t take any risks,” but understand what they are and possible consequences of your actions to yourself and others.Now all publicity is good publicity, but where a giant pink pig comes in is anybody’s guess. Mine is it’s kind of a left -over mascot from when the ski patrol snow pigs team dominated the infamous Great Race in Lionshead, crossed with a TV sock puppet called “Lamb Chop.”As a child I found Lamb Chop’s funny until I made the connection between deliciously dead meat and those oh-so-cute bouncing balls of fluff on our neighbor’s farm. Then it all became a little disturbing. I guess you have to admire the honesty of calling a pig “Pork Chop.” It either shows how removed we are from the realities of our food supply or how comfortable we are with it.Pig factories are about as far removed from the idyllic images of family farms with foraging, overfed pigs dying in their sleep as you can get. If a kennel treated any of our companion animals (dogs, cats)remotely close to how a factory farm does, it would be prosecuted for cruelty. It’s amazing how flexible our moral code is when our interests (profit, cheap food) are concerned. Still, the epidemics of obesity-related health issues are their revenge.The ski trail No Tickee No Laundee disappeared with our increased sensitivity to Asian stereotypes. A rumor from the fabulous Sundance Saloon is that Eagle’s Nest will change names, as despite its position overlooking the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness area, it could be linked to Hitler’s hideout instead.If we’re this sensitive, why not give pigs or vegetarians a bit of respect and back off the Pork Chop moniker. Safety-wise, a pig named Pork Chop doesn’t look to be doing too good, although it’s hard for any animal mascot to create a good safety image. We eat, hunt and kill pretty much all of them. Then you either have a prey animal looking petrified, fragile and vulnerable hiding on the green beginner runs or mean predators like tigers and wolves stalking the slopes. “Watch out, here comes the wolf pack” is perhaps a more realistic safety image on some runs. Looking at how some of us ski, a mad cow might be acceptable.Now, a tough-looking, no-nonsense ski granny would be a great safety mascot “Still doing this at 80 and you better behave young man if you want to be too!” Mother knows best, as experience is the key ingredient to risk assessment. Youthful “it’ll never happen to me” foolhardiness can be seen in the high car insurance rates for young males and tobacco companies allegedly targeting teenagers to get them hooked before they know any better.Our media culture celebrates the risk taker with all its emphasis on “extreme” sports and “just do it” slogans but pays little attention to the voice of experience. “Just walk away (when it’s not right)” is a better motto for most of the mature and healthy adventure athletes I’ve met. The saying “There are old climbers and bold climbers, but very few old and bold climbers” is still appropriate where safety is concerned.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado


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