Ski areas crack down on rude snowriders
The Denver Post
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” Snowboarders plopped across the middle of runs chatting on cell phones. Gondola cars reeking of smoke. Red Bull cans littering the snow under lifts. Shredders turning black runs blue with their “F-bombs.”
Powder hounds are decrying conduct more expected in malls and high school hallways than on the snowy slopes where controlled schussing used to be the norm but shredding ” today’s term for tearing up the slopes ” is now customary.
In some cases, boorish behavior is simply annoying. In others, it can snowball into court battles.
That happened recently at Beaver Creek resort when a 7-year-old skied over the backs of a 60-year-old man’s skis, purportedly injuring him. The man screamed at the boy and later filed a personal injury lawsuit.
“That takes rudeness to a whole other level,” said Vail skier Jim Farrell, who admits he can get a little testy when someone slams the chairlift safety bar down on his head.
Colorado’s 26 ski areas are stepping up with both proactive and punitive measures designed to ensure civility stays as much a part of the snow experience as face plants.
The ski areas don’t want to be seen as heavy-handed, “tsk-tsk” disciplinarians because, after all, snow sports are about having fun and pushing the limits of pitch and powder.
But they are nonetheless trying to get their politeness point across with everything from upfront etiquette tips to finger-wagging warnings. Repeat or over-the-top offenders have been slapped with temporary loss of passes, mandatory safety classes or permanently pulled passes.
“Keep it fun, keep it clean,” terrain-park and youth marketing manager for Winter Park resort Bob Holme counsels users. “And if you compromise safety, your pass can be pulled.”
Winter Park is the first ski area in Colorado to add a tangible incentive for good behavior ” an advanced terrain park that only those who toe the line on rules can use.
Shredders and freeriders ” skiers who do tricks ” must watch a 15-minute video on safety and civility before they earn the privilege of using the top-shelf-cool jumps and rails in the park called Dark Territory. If they don’t follow the rules, the special passes for this area are pulled.
“Our message is, ‘This is a cool and mellow place. Keep it that way,’ ” Holme said.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Association is promoting a SlopeWise safety program. Ski-patrol members go to area schools and colleges to stump for education and awareness. Information on proper slope behavior ” from not butting into lift lines to the proper way to exit a chairlift ” is included in all brochures that go out to guests.
The resort also added 14 “courtesy patrol” positions to help make sure snow riders are minding their p’s and q’s.
All of that seems to be having some effect.
“I think the whole skier-versus-snowboarder thing has kind of settled down. There’s a peace there now,” said Par Arnone, a two-decade local at Steamboat. “Back in the day, it used to be common to see skiers hollering at snowboarders, but we really haven’t seen much of that anymore.”
Maybe it’s been reversed.
Amie Johnson said the buzz among her snowboarding friends at the recent X Games in Snowmass was all about how annoying skiers are.
“They were all saying skiers are taking up the whole slope, carving big turns all the way across. They create traffic jams for the ‘boarders,” Johnson said. “The ‘boarders spray them with snow on purpose.”
Breckenridge Ski Resort is trying to cut back on that kind of behavior by adding a new department, the Mountain Safety division, to make visitors aware that there are rules. The division gives presentations to church groups, ski clubs and other organizations that book group reservations. Members of the groups get the talk before they ever strap on their boots.
Besides stressing the Skier Responsibility Code that addresses safety issues, Breckenridge officials give the biblical-sounding injunction to “treat others as you would like to be treated.”
“Everybody needs to understand that this is a public place, and there are all kinds of people out there with all kinds of morals and ethics,” said Ryen Malinchak, Breckenridge ski-safety manager.
When rule violators at Breckenridge have their passes pulled, as has happened about 50 times this season for skiing outside the ropes, they must go through a two-hour safety awareness class before they are allowed back on the lifts.
January was Learn to Ski/Ride Month in Colorado, and some Colorado ski officials think those lessons are key to gold-star behavior on the mountains.
“Lessons are more than just learning the technical movements. They are also an introduction to the sport and the Skier Responsibility Code,” said Jennifer Rudolph with Colorado Ski County USA.
Jen DeBerge of Winter Park said that area is offering deals on lessons because of a belief that education is the best way to lessen problems. “We give people the power to learn how to ski appropriately.”
Longtime skiers say much of the poor manners lies with newcomers who don’t take advantage of that education.
“They can get out there and not have a clue to the courtesies and rules of the mountain,” said Kent Foster, who has been skiing since 1959.
Foster and others attribute some of the downhill slide to the fact that decades ago, skiers were usually introduced to the sport by their parents and learned mountain etiquette by example in a family setting. Also, the equipment back then required more skill, which ruled out skiing for those not serious about the sport.
Nowadays, snowboards and shaped skis have made it possible for the sometimes uncouth masses to slide down a mountain in much greater numbers ” a record 12 million in Colorado last season. They do it with more ease ” and speed.
Avid Powderhorn Resort skier Ben Potter compares problem ski slopes to clogged freeways.
“It’s a factor of numbers,” he said. “When you get more drivers on the road, there are bound to be more bad drivers.”
The slope traffic problem is obviously worse at busy areas closest to metro Denver. But the overall dip in safe and thoughtful snow riders hasn’t bypassed the smaller areas. Even the little family oriented Powderhorn near Grand Junction has pulled a handful of passes this year.
“Traffic is going so much faster,” said Bill Bruchak, director of the ski patrol at Powderhorn.
“The advance in equipment makes beginners think they are intermediates and intermediates think they are bulletproof. Anymore, a 4-by-8 orange ‘Slow’ sign doesn’t work. We have to have a person stand there and slow traffic down.”
Powderhorn has taken to posting tips of the day such as, “The person downhill has the right of way.” The resort also has gone beyond some ski areas with enforcement of violations of common decency.
Loud foul language first merits a warning and if it continues, passes are pulled.
“We call them ‘F-bombers,’ and if we encounter them, we take their ticket,” Bruchak said.
Malinchak said the solution may ultimately lie in licensing or certification for skiers or ‘boarders before they ever hit the slopes. It would work much like having to demonstrate some skills and knowledge before driving a car.
“The trend is going to start heading that way. We need to set a standard in the industry so we’re not just allowing anybody up there without some sort of instruction,” he said. “I think people would embrace that and realize resorts are trying to provide a safe experience.”
Post writer Jason Blevins contributed to this report.