Education sometimes stings on the slopes |

Education sometimes stings on the slopes

Nicole Frey
NWS Slow Down PU 12-28

VAIL- Alex Bigler rode smoothly down the lower Ramshorn run on Vail Mountain Wednesday.At the crowded Mid-Vail area, Vail Resorts employees in red ski jackets waved their ski poles and arms trying to slow skiers and snowboarders down during the latest Sting Day on Vail Mountain.While most people hit the brakes, Bigler cruised quickly through the gates, earning himself a little bit of “education” – Vail Resorts’ term for a reprimand that could cost a skier or rider of his pass if the “Red Coat” determines the deed is devious enough or gets a lot of attitude from whomever he stopped.

Catching up with Bigler, “Red Coat” Patrick Kelley, who works security for Vail Resorts, patiently told the young snowboarder about the repercussions of his speedy actions. “I tell them it can scare someone to go that fast,” Kelley said. “You might be a good skier, but someone else isn’t.”Bigler responded politely and kept his pass, but Kelley’s words won’t change this snowboarder’s way of riding. Growing up in the Vail Valley and on the mountain, it was the first time Bigler had ever been “educated.””I thought it was kind of stupid because I really didn’t think I was going that fast,” Bigler said.

But Bob Cox, supervisor of Vail’s Yellow Jacket safety squad, said high speeds alone are enough to get someone stopped.”Even if you’re in control, if you’re going faster than the rate of speed, we’re going to stop them,” Cox said. Even I received a bit of education. Skiing just ahead of Cox, I felt in control of my speed and slightly immune due to the Yellow Jacket company I was keeping. But nonetheless, I received a “slow down, please,” from “Red Coat” Steve Johnson. I was shocked.”Everyone is completely surprised when we ask them to slow down,” Johnson said. “Nobody thinks they’re going too fast or that they’re out of control.”

From then on, I followed in Cox’s tracks making neat, wide turns – and going at what seemed a ridiculously slow pace.But parked at the bottom of the run, watching the end-of-the-day crowds funnel down the mountain, several of them narrowly avoiding collision, it became easy to understand the Yellow Jackets “no need for speed” philosophy in high-traffic areas. “It’s not that we’re trying to get people to go slow on Riva Ridge (an expert run),” Cox said. “But these areas are marked as slow skiing zones on the map. These sting days are all about starting the conversation, not about removing skiing or riding privileges.”Cox said about 20 people have lost their passes over the last three sting days. While speed and control violations are easily spotted during the stings, riders can lose their passes anytime for a multitude of violations, including skiing out of bounds.

Kelley had only been at his post for about 45 minutes by the time he’d educated a few people. “Everyone’s been real pleasant,” he said. “There’s been lots of ‘thank yous.'”No one was immune, and even a ski instructor was asked to, “slow ‘er down,” by Kelley. Just at Mid Vail, Cox estimated more than 100 people will be educated in an afternoon. Cox said sting days, which will be held throughout the season, are necessary because people can go faster for longer amounts of time on new types of skis and snowboards. “Areas that used to be busy for a couple hours are now busy for four or five hours,” he said.

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism