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Tailgaters and tailgatees

Matt Zalaznick

“Sometimes there’s a blizzard and you think that most of these people live here, but they’re going too slow, so you have to pass them,” says Marcy Mumpower of Eagle. “But for the most part, I think everybody drives fine.”

OK. Are you driving the pickup hurtling around the bend at 70 mph tailgating –and terrifying everyone inside – the Toyota SUV crawling along I-70 at school-zone speed?

“I’m a tailgater,” says Jeff Thomas, a skier who often drives up to the valley from Denver. “I let them know if they should get over to the right if they’re not going fast enough.”



But tailgating is not the only peril of a winter spin up into the mountains. One must, Thomas warns, avoid slipping into a parallel universe.

“This morning I was in the left just coasting and people were flying by me in the right lane,” he says.



Note: Until you can ride a mountain monorail from the Front Range to the mountains, the left lane is supposed to be for faster drivers.

Others who admit to tailgating – such as Brooks Parker, a snowboarder from Sugarloaf, Colo. – blame their bumper-buzzing habit on nature, not nurture.

“I’m from Boston and we like to go fast,” says Parker, adding that sometimes he’s a victim of Rocky Mountain tailgaters. And of the general behavior of mountain motorists, Parker says folks out west aren’t much different than their countrymen on the East Coast.



“I’d say people fly around here, too,” Parker adds.

Note: Drivers in Boston are most certainly crazy. However, the worst drivers in the free world, hands down, are in Miami, where the traffic chaos rivals that of Cairo.

Also, Sugarloaf, Colo., is between Nederland and Boulder.

Laura Springhetti, another skier who drives up from Denver, said it’s important skiers don’t start skiing until they get to Vail.

“I try to give space,” she says. “Some people say I’m a tailgater, but I try not to be – you have to be patient, you’ll get there. I-70 is not the slopes.”

Folks who come to the valley from warmer climes –such as Miami or California – often make sure to arrive in four-wheel-drive trucks that they promptly deck out with studded snow tires and fancy sound systems.

While those features –excluding the seven-disc changer in the trunk – give a driver more stability and help one get up the steep hills in front of one’s home, four-wheel-drive and high-tech ties can’t help one handle everything, says Shelly Koehler, a Minturn Winter Market vendor from Silverthorne.

“Just because you have four-wheel drive, it doesn’t mean anything on ice,” Koehler says.

Her overall assessment of mountain driving: “Too fast, too close.”

But, most of the time, there’s little reason to be driving in the most harrowing conditions, she adds.

“For the most part, those of us who live here know that you don’t drive over the Vail Pass when you don’t have to,” Koehler says.

John Mattox, another Minturn Winter Market from Silverthorne, says on a recent trip over Vail Pass, he saw almost 10 cars off the side of the interstate.

Furthermore, the average speed was about 70 mph and the road was snowy and icy, Mattox says.

“It gets worse and worse every year,” he says.

Sometimes, a driver – much like a fighter pilot – has to take evasive action, Mattox says.

“Living up here, sometimes you drive fast just to stay away from it,” he says. “Sometimes I speed up just so someone doesn’t have the chance to pull in front of me.”

Though one can choose when one drives, one has no choice but to drive when one chooses to go, Mattox adds.

“There aren’t many choices up here, except to drive,” he says.

Mumpower says she’s more afraid in the roundabouts than on I-70 in the winter –especially on around Christmas.

“During the holidays in the roundabouts, people are lost and confused,” she says. “You’ll see seven cars stopped in the middle.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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