Injuries common on Meadow Mountain
He’s the district ranger of the Holy Cross District of the White River National Forest, and his office overlooks Meadow Mountain, a popular sledding hill.
When the Forest Service acquired Meadow Mountain in a land swap with Vail Resorts in the 1970s, the Forest Service committed to the the town of Minturn to keep the area open as a no-fee public area where people could sled, tube, ride snowmobiles or pursue other winter sports.
Each winter thousands of young and old sledders, tobogganers and inner tubers use the hill. The problem is too many are getting hurt doing it, said Wettstein.
Already this year, he said, someone sustained a serious enough injury to require an ambulance ride and there also have been two instances of people breaking bones.
The skyrocketing use has caused the Forest Service to take a closer, and more restrictive approach to using the hill.
“I just beg people to be careful,” he said. “Sledding injuries are much more common than most people realize. You want people to go out there and have fun, but you don’t want them to get hurt.”
For the Forest Service the dilemma lies in keeping the area open and safe, without having people endanger themselves and possibly suing. If the hill provides too much liability, the Forest Service may be forced to close the facility to sledding, Wettstein said.
The problem is the slopes which were so attractive to skiers, are too steep for sleds and inner tubes, and it can cause people to go too fast.
Last year the Forest Service cordoned off the hill to keep people from going up too high and sliding down too fast, and the agency also created a berm of straw bales to restrict where sledding could be done.
Volunteers now monitor the safety of sledders on weekends. The changes have have reduced the number of injuries, he said, but it hasn’t eliminated them. In the winter of 2000-2001 there were more than a dozen serious injuries on the hill, he said. One was life-threatening.
This year people walking back up the hill will be separated from those sliding down, to minimize collision between sledders and those heading back up the hill.
A similar hill in Grand County was closed last winter by the Forest Service after a bad accident involving a sledder.
“We’ve been advised by the agency (Forest Service) to close the hill for liability reasons,” he said. “If we can’t keep it safe, we’ll have to close it.”
“It’s out there for people to have fun,” he said. “Just don’t hurt yourself.”
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org