Vail Daily column: Ski season wish list

Butch Mazzuca
Valley Voices
Butch Mazzuca
Butch Mazzuca |

Normally the title of this commentary might conjure images of a long-time skier wishing for a new pair of K-2s or a 500-inch snow year; but not in this case. Rather, what follows are a few ideas I wish Vail Resorts would embrace in order to make Vail Mountain a safer and more enjoyable place to ski.

When I taught skiing, my students always received a few cogent comments about safety on catwalks. Upon entering a catwalk, I would ask each student to draw an imaginary line down the center and then stay on one side or the other. Pretty easy to do, right? Yet that simple act is not only a courtesy to other skiers but having a “predictable line” significantly reduces the likelihood of being struck from behind.

So it might not be a bad idea if Vail Resorts added a signage baffle or banner at the entrance to catwalks that reads something to the effect of, “As a courtesy to others, keep to your right or left and try not to cross the imaginary centerline.” Who knows, perhaps some folks might even connect the dots and grasp the concept that a predictable line is the best insurance against “rear-end collision.”

Another wish easily fulfilled would be to place a couple of baffles reading, “If you encounter flat light, ski closer to the tree line where the soft shadows cast by the trees increase visibility.” I’m not going to wordsmith this safety tip, but I’m certain Vail Resorts’ marketing department could come up with a catchy phrase to get that message across as well.

Another aspiration spins off from a commentary I wrote last year when I opined, “Screaming into a lift line at high speed doesn’t impress anyone — it’s dangerous and immature! So give some thought to slowing it down 60 or 70 yards before reaching the lift line, especially in those wide open areas around Mid-Vail and Chairs 2 and 11.”

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Common sense tells us if a skier or boarder approaches the lift maze at high speed, they probably didn’t begin their reckless behavior 50 yards from the lift. It’s also a pretty safe bet if someone is that irresponsible close to the maze entrance they’re likely to be even more so while skiing down a run.

So here’s an idea — when caught in the act, why not give reckless or out-of-control skiers or riders immediate hands-on “instruction” in mountain safety and etiquette?

Here’s how it would work: Every day the Ski School would offer a group of instructors who need the hours, but didn’t get work that day, the opportunity to participate in a program wherein when reckless skiers/riders are encountered by Patrol or the Yellow Jackets, the offending individual is given “a timeout,” so to speak. The timeout would consist of a chair ride with an instructor who first discusses the dangers of their behavior and then follows up by taking a run with the offender offering him or her free ski tips.

First and foremost, such a program would deliver a clear message. Secondly, chances are the offending skier/rider wasn’t skiing or riding alone, so by taking the offending individual out of circulation for 15 or 20 minutes, Vail Resorts breaks up a potentially unsafe group mind-set that may exist among that particular assemblage of skiers or riders.

Meanwhile, the free “single-run-ski lesson,” would inject a modicum of goodwill into an otherwise uncomfortable situation — i.e., when given a lemon, make lemonade — all while affording instructors who otherwise would be sent home, an opportunity to get their required hours. And only if/when the offending snow rider transgresses for a second time should VR pull his or her pass.

Lastly, VR needs to improve the grooming on Vail Mountain. Regardless of the company line on this matter, it’s my personal experience that mountain grooming has deteriorated steadily over the last few years, the lack of snowfall notwithstanding.

VR will likely deny this, but having skied here for nearly 40 years I can recall numerous occasions when my friends and I skied fresh corduroy late in the day. As a sidebar, with Vail’s current grooming protocols, it’s a wonder instructors can successfully teach lower level skiers when 6 inches of powder has fallen since the previous night’s grooming.

I realize the question of grooming has become a sore point within VR, but it’s also a sore point with the dozens of skiers, instructors and longtime groomers I’ve spoken with on the subject.

Someone at VR will likely take offense to this last suggestion; so let me be clear, I have the utmost respect for the managers, supervisors and employees who make Vail Mountain the finest ski area in North America.

Nonetheless, there’s always room for improvement, and if incorporated, then I believe the aforementioned suggestions would increase the enjoyment of spending a day skiing or riding down the trails of Vail Mountain.

Quote of the day: “There’s no waiting for friends on a powder day ”— Author unknown.

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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