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Spaced out on speed

Saturday, Jan. 18, marks the first day of National Skier Safety Week, which signals the beginning of the annual hand-wringing over how the ski industry gets its “Space not Speed” message out without unduly alarming the average recreational skier.Despite the increasing carnage on the Colorado slopes in recent years, skiing remains one of the safest forms of recreation. You’re more likely to die in a boating accident, industry officials like to point out, although you are probably safer at the local bowling alley.But bowling is not an option in the Vail Valley, where we tend to thrive on more risk-oriented recreational endeavors.At a recent meeting between members of the local media and Vail Resorts officials to discuss how best to get the word out about smart snowriding, there were a number of smart-ass suggestions, in the media tradition of cynically poking fun at life-and-death matters.I’ll share a few of those ski safety ad campaign ideas, just to confirm for you what dark, twisted souls most journalists possess:”This is your brain. This is your brain after hitting a tree.””Ski unsafely and you support terrorism.”Pipe in Sonny and Cher’s “I got you babe” on the loudspeakers on a continuous loop.As sick as these suggestions were, shock campaigns do work. But the ski industry doesn’t want to broadcast a message that skiing is a dangerous sport. Technically, they’re right. The numbers support the fact that it’s really not that risky.But if you do something stupidly, anything can be risky. Witness my near-death experience just stringing Christmas lights this holiday season.So the industry is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While Vail officials won’t officially advocate helmet use, preferring to leave it a matter of personal choice, privately they’ll say, “Hey, it can’t hurt to wear one.””Space not Speed” is the National Ski Area’s Association campaign in vogue of late, and it’s kind of catchy. The sentiment behind it is right on the money. If people would maintain a personal buffer zone between themselves and other skiers and trees and ride under control, there would be far fewer collisions.I call it the Magnetic Skier Effect. You can be the only one standing in the middle of a wide-open ski slope and someone will inevitably ski right at you, as if to show you how good they are. Personally, I don’t care. Keep away from me.Mountain ops people must feel the same way. Why is it that people ski or ride right at snowmobiles and snowcats when there is so much run available to stay away from them?I don’t know how you get that message out to people. The way I avoid the problem is to just ski in places where the masses generally don’t go. Eventually, though, you have to funnel down the front side of the mountain.And that’s where “Space not Speed” becomes an imperative, not just a catchy ad slogan. Take it to heart and, nothing personal, “Stay the hell away from me.” Hey, that might work as next year’s campaign.qDavid O. Williams is managing editor of The Vail Trail and has been an editor and writer in the Vail Valley for more than 10 years. E-mail him at dwilliams@vailtrail.com.


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