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Safety on Vail Mountain

Otto Wiest
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

Some days ago, I heard a lady yelling at me, “Jesus Christ!” She was traversing the hill and intended to run into me. Many skiers still don’t know the skiers code.

But the biggest problem seems to be that a lot of people simply don’t look and don’t know what is happening around them. They are so busy controlling their equipment that they don’t see where the other skiers are. Isn’t it crazy when only about 10 skiers are on a ski hill but two of them run into each other?

Recently, a horrible ski accident happened in Austria, when the ministerprasident of a German country, which is similar to the governor of Colorado, skied into a lady. He had a brain concussion, and she died.

He was wearing a helmet, but she did not. In Germany and Austria one week later, ski helmets almost completely sold out. Also, the question whose fault it was is still not answered. But what helps a helmet, and what helps the right of way? Wouldn’t it be much better to go slow enough that you are able to look around and avoid the accident? At least that is my version of safety on the slopes.

Vail, with the Yellow Jackets, was one of the first resorts that acknowledged the necessity to watch and control the safety at Vail Mountain. As a result, things in Vail have become much better and safer.

I was just reading that Switzerland/Gstaad now has four runs where the speed is strictly limited to 20 mph. The speed is shown on a meter, and when you go too fast you get asked in a friendly manner to use a faster red slope.

Those slopes were made after about 1,000 guests had been asked how to improve their ski vacation. The purpose of this speed limit is so older people and families with little children have a safer place to ski.

On a ski hill, the slow skier has the disadvantage of being passed and skied down by the faster one. There are skiers going 70 mph beside people going 10 mph, and the necessary distance to pass is not clear.

The U.S. skiers code says: “People ahead of you have the right of way, it’s your responsibility to avoid them.” In Europe, you now find the new and different FIS version, which says: “Whenever you pass somebody, the skier in front and also the slower skier has the right of way. Your distance has to be at least six feet! And you have to give the skier you pass enough room to move.”

Because the traffic on the slopes in Europe is so much tighter, we all can be more then glad to ski in happy Vail, where we enjoy wonderful snow and, most of the time, almost-empty slopes.

Since 2003, Italy has had a law for skiers and policemen on the slopes (Carabinieri and Alpini). They charge you about $40 when you take somebody’s right of way. And they charge you up to more than $100 for what they call “stupid behavior” (too fast, crazy jumps, skiing too close to others and so on).

All of this is a big, big difference from the times when I started to ski on old wooden skis.

Today, things have changed a lot. At times when we start to hurt one another on a ski mountain or also when families and older people have to give up skiing because they are afraid to get hurt, then I guess it is a very good idea to limit the unlimited fun of skiing.

I have skied for more than 65 seasons and have never, ever had an accident with another skier. How to avoid accidents? 1) High speed on crowded slopes is stupid. 2) Never pass others too closely. The length of a ski pole is the minimum distance. 3) Whenever you traverse a hill or when you make a turn so that you cross the hill, look up to see who is coming down. It’s easy to find out who is dangerous. 4) Look, look, look! Look back! Look forward! Look up! Look down!

The question is really not if we have the right of way. The question is simply how we avoid getting hurt.

Otto Wiest

Vail


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