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Vail Daily letter: Fundamentals of safety have lapsed

Shay Hoffman
Vail, CO Colorado
letters@vaildaily.com

In response to the letter titled “Teach them to turn,” printed March 16:

I have been a returning guest to the Vail Valley for 43 years without exception. We have stayed in Beaver Creek for the past 20 years but when I first discovered Vail, Beaver Creek was yet to be conceived. Because of my long and continuous time spent skiing and snowboarding on these great mountains, I think I have a perspective that is important in relation to the letter from Mr. Rondeau.

When I first visited Vail, I entered the prestigious ski school and took both private and class lessons for 10-plus years. During those early days there seemed to be three major considerations stressed for participants: one, skiing in control; two, finishing turns; and, three, mountain etiquette.

In my present experience, it would seem that none of these once primary methods of insuring safety are of any concern. I can remember when any color jacketed employee could – and did – pull lift tickets when a person was viewed as skiing out of control or rude to others on the mountain. If I am not mistaken, during those days a person who had their lift ticket scratched could attend a workshop held in the evenings to educate them in the necessity of safe operations on the mountain. Attending the meeting reinstated the scratched lift ticket. Twice scratched was barred for the year. In those days, a mountain participant did not need to have a course in fighter affiliation in order to use the mountain.

In the past years here as interests have focused upon retail, lodging, and ever-expanding and increasing real estate development, I have found that the interest in safety and serious development of qualified skiers and boarders has been reduced to a minimum. I have been seriously and dangerously hit by a flying skier on Simba at Vail. I was knocked completely out of both skis and was so dizzy after the encounter that I had to have help getting off the mountain. It took me years to be able to ski in traffic and even today I will retire to my condo if the slope becomes too crowded.

A few years later, I was struck from behind by another out of control skier on President Ford’s run beneath Strawberry Park Lift. As an advanced skier, I found that if I stayed on the black runs I did not have to contend with so much bizarre, selfish and inconsiderate behavior. However, mountain etiquette seems to be a thing of the past.

When I turned 60 I thought that perhaps I needed some simpler terrain than the black runs of Vail and Beaver Creek. Soooo, off to the Vail Ski School again. This experience was not what I had hoped for when I booked the five-day private lesson package. This space is too limited for a complete assessment of those lessons, but I will say that I was never told how to choose a board. I was started with the wrong foot-forward. I was instructed that I would learn balance by scraping down a makeshift hill. I was never instructed about using my edges to control my board and I was never given time to gain balance and understanding of the new process.

Within the first two days I had been stuck under the chairlift, twisted my left knee and then took the dreaded backwards-down-the-mountain fall that broke my tail bone. I have since learned to ride my board safely and under control through a system of off-mountain training. With the proper instruction and many hours of preparation before taking my board to the mountain, I was able to learn the old process that was once taught here – one, ride under control; two, finish turns; and, three, mountain etiquette. I have been riding my board safely and without injury now for four seasons, and I have found that the rudeness and inconsideration of others on the mountain is an escalating problem.

Just this season I was on Booth Gardens without another soul except my partner in sight. A red jacketed skier whose job description includes helping make the vacationers time on the mountain an “experience of a lifetime” came down the mountain from above me and with acres of fresh snow in all directions squeezed between me and the tree line without even the consideration of announcing his approach or apology for his rudeness. Not only is there a deficiency with instruction for visitors, but the example set by many uniformed employees presents an out-of-control, rude role model. What can we expect of our fellow riders and skiers when the example set is so disastrous?

In my opinion, safety on the mountain is no longer of a primary concern to those who make the developmental decisions for Vail Associates. Teaching and enforcing the primary activities of, one, skiing and riding in control (using edges of the equipment, not sliding or scraping down the mountain), two, finishing turns in both skiing and riding, and, three, mountain etiquette may come back in vogue some day, and I hope it happens during my lifetime.


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