More than pulling passes
VAIL ” Bob Cox skied down to the flat area just above Mid-Vail and, with his ski pole, pointed to the runs that converge there: Ramshorn, Meadows, Zot, Swingsville, Cappuccino, Christmas, Expresso, Whistle Pig, Look Ma.
On a busy day, there could be hundreds of skiers and snowboarders ” including lots of families ” converging there, he said.
The area is one of the places where Yellow Jackets, Vail’s mountain safety team, patrol to make sure skiers aren’t going too fast.
“No matter how good a skier or rider you are, we need you to go the same speed as everyone else around you,” Cox said.
Cox was on his regular patrol of the mountain as a Yellow Jacket Monday. During the peak season, Yellow Jackets monitor certain runs throughout the day to make sure people are skiing safely.
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On Monday, the season was winding down, and the Yellow Jackets weren’t monitoring any runs ” 14 were floating around the mountain.
During the height of winter, 22 Yellow Jackets are on Vail Mountain every day.
“Educating” speeding skiers and suspending passes of uncooperative people is admittedly part of the job, Yellow Jackets say.
Vail Mountain has suspended 1,001 days of skiing and riding and 10 passes for the season this year because of safety violations, officials say.
But punitive measures are just one part of the job, Yellow Jackets say.
“We don’t want to be perceived as ski cops,” said Jeff Wiles, a Yellow Jacket supervisor.
The job is more about problem-solving, Wiles said.
The most common question they get?
“What’s the easiest way down?” Wiles said.
“The next one is, ‘Where am I?'” Cox said.
Or, a Yellow Jacket might help someone with a broken binding. Wiles provides another example of problem-solving: finding a wife sitting down on the snow, crying, as her husband tries to teach her to ski.
“We can literally sign her up for a ski school lesson on the spot,” Wiles says.
After checking out Mid-Vail, Cox skied down to Chair 2. He chatted with a skier, wondering where she was from.
He says talking to people is his favorite part of the job.
“Chatting with someone I’ve never met in my life,” he said. “Where are they from? What brings them to Vail?”
From the top of the chair, he announced he was headed to “2904,” which is Yellow Jacket-speak for a spot halfway down Lodgepole. There, he checked on another “slow” sign where a beginner trail intersects with an intermediate trail.
He continued down to an area just above Chair 2 where wider trails funnel into a narrow area. He waved his ski pole and called out to skiers to get them to slow down. But most skiers were going slow, anyway.
The closest thing he found to a delinquent skier was a ski patroller who jokingly splashed him with slush on the way past.
Back on Chair 2, word came over his radio that Ski Patrol was closing the Back Bowls because of lightning. Dark clouds were looming over Mount of the Holy Cross.
He headed to Eagle’s Nest to meet with Ski Patrol to find out if they needed help. Yellow Jackets aid Ski Patrol in “sweeping” the mountain at the end of the day to make sure no skiers are left behind.
Yellow Jackets have to be “advanced intermediate” skiers or snowboarders.
At Eagle’s Nest, Cox met with fellow Yellow Jackets waiting for word on whether Ski Patrol needed help.
One of the Yellow Jackets there was Nikki Pickman, who was finishing up her first year as a Yellow Jacket.
Some skiers and snowboarders are resistant to efforts to try to get them to ski slowly, she said. But others are appreciative of their presence, she said.
“You’re going to have both,” she said.
One of the best perks of being a Yellow Jacket is being on skis every day, she said.
“It makes for a happy atmosphere,” she said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.