Valley Voices: Danger on the slopes |

Valley Voices: Danger on the slopes

Otto Wiest
Vail CO, Colroado

Somebody proposed (I think it was in the Denver Post) reducing the grooming on ski slopes to slow down skiers and to make skiing safer. In fact this was done at some ski resorts in Switzerland, but this is no solution. Bumps may slow down skiers, but it also will keep them away from Vail.

Instead, Vail’s Yellow Jackets have worked well, they have reduced the danger a lot and they also have created more responsible behavior on the slopes. One of my friends, the former German three-time Olympic gold medal winner Rosi Mittermaier told me the following story when she was here for the American Ski Classic. She got caught on the Lionshead skier’s bridge when she heard the command “Get her!” and two officials stopped her because she was skiing too fast. She explained to me that she was not skiing fast at all, but what means fast to an Olympic Champion? I was quite happy to hear this story as it shows clearly that Vail Resorts really tries to protect the skiers and feels responsible for our safety.

It’s always good to know that somebody cares. Unlimited freedom like some people would like to see on the mountain means freedom for some few who endanger others. What kind of freedom is that?

The deadly results of the past season can’t be ignored. But this should not only be blamed only on the ski sport or the ski slopes or the ski resorts. There are some more reasons for the catastrophic result. Isn’t the media also to blame for it? All they show is generally very extreme skiing and boarding ” fast and faster extreme jumps and crazy actions. Of course, people try to do it, not knowing how dangerous the impact of a sudden stop might be. The idea that a helmet and a safety binding may protect them from damage is a dangerous dream. Is this way of presenting the sport really helpful? How silly!

The number of skiers in the U.S. seems to decrease, but the number of skiers in Europe is growing. What makes the difference? The fun of skiing, not the extreme moves, attract guests. May I remind how the advertisement for a trip on a cruise ship into the Caribbean is done? Do people in their vacation time really want to jump off cliffs or slide over a rail?

Whenever I get friends from Europe they are astonished about the low skill level of American skiers. But, according to Bode Miller, Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn, the U.S. is the No. 1 ski nation. But who cares? Even if I would put Bode on Vail’s Bridge Street and asked, “Who is this guy?”, I am quite sure a lot of people would not even know him.

No wonder many skiers have no idea how real good skiing should look. Going straight down the hill, like the wood choppers in the old days have done, seems still to prove that you are a great skier. And even if there are the World Cup races in Vail, all you may see on TV is football. In Europe, they show the races all day long and there are up to 50,000 spectators at the events. How popular would tennis have been if it was not shown on TV? They call Colorado “Ski Country” but all we see is football or any other sports except skiing. How can we make skiing popular and safer when the world’s best skiers are ignored ” even in Colorado ” by the media?

But I also think ski school is part of the problem. Read the history of skiing. When Hannes Schneider started in Austria the first ski lessons those lessons were free. Guests learned how to ski, they enjoyed it and came again. Smart enough ” the hotel paid for the ski instruction. Those skiers were not left alone and didn’t have to learn it the hard way by getting injured.

Today ski lessons are so expensive that most skiers don’t seem willing to pay the money for all the necessary help they need. I want to add that the salaries of the ski instructors really are not the reason for those high prices. Ski lessons in Europe are much cheaper.

Remember the old Sun Valley movies? in those days, skiing was not at all a dangerous sport ” it meant fun and having a great time with other skiers. That’s exactly what European ski schools try to give their guests and with a lot of success. A ski school is the best instrument to make people enjoy Vail, and also to teach them what to do for a safe vacation. All of this can create better business and fewer accidents.

Skiing should not be used to show the actions of “stunt men”, but instead used to sell a healthy vacation in the wonderful winter world.

Please think about it ” after more then 65 seasons and thousand of days on skis, I hope that I am not completely wrong.

Otto Wiest is a Vail Ski School ski instructor and a Vail resident. E-mail comments about this column to

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