Vail Daily column: Simplifying safety on the mountain | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Simplifying safety on the mountain

Mitch Whiteford
Valley Voices

Winter season is in full swing, and I want to recommend a few moments away from the mad rush to collect Epic Verts (uh, guilty … ) to read a couple suggestions to simplify mountain safety. Paraphrasing Thucydides (circa Peloponnesian war), a collision on the mountain can ruin your whole day.

The ski resort industry has helpfully provided the Skiers Responsibility Code. The commandments all look sensible, but there are eight of them, and speaking personally, I have trouble keeping more than a couple ideas front of mind before I start to forget where I put the car keys, which is the clean stack of underwear and where it is exactly that I live. And besides, the code looks like it may have been written by, ahem, industry lawyers. Sure, it is important to know how to ride one of the newfangled lifts, but it is more likely to inconvenience your fellow snow traveler rather than disable them if you exaggerated your expertise by just trying to get on it.

So in this note I am modestly offering Whiteford’s Simplified Skier and Snowboarder Safety, or WooSSSie for a handy mnemonic. It is really no more than a couple gentle suggestions so as not to alienate any readers who matured in the educational system that eschewed rote learning or rigorous rules (even in math!).

Gentle suggestion No. 1: The bipedal mammal in front of you has the right of way. See? Nothing to argue with there. But as in optimistically named government programs, the devil is in the real world application. What this actually means is that, even if you are showing Ted Ligety how to generate edge angles on the switchbacks leading to Bear Tree, or exploring the nuances of Einstein’s theory of speed, space and time on the Sun Up catwalk, you may have to decelerate, or yes, even stop in order to avoid the participant in front of you. As absolutely inconvenient as this may seem at the moment, you can always ride the very speedy lift back up and make another run. And of course your fellow participant will enjoy the use of his or her still intact body. This also means not scaring your fellow snow traveler out of their remaining growth spurts if they are a child or remaining synapses if they are an adult. Included in this well-meaning admonishment is the truth that proclaiming “on your left!” or “on your right!” is not a thing. Neither is its reform school sibling of aggressively clicking your poles as you approach at space warping velocity. These techniques may share the self confidence of a European sourced Bahn Burner impatiently flicking high beams at lesser vehicles in rush hour, but that is not a thing either.

Gentle suggestion No. 2: Look up before you start again, or enter, or cross a trail. We mostly don’t back onto the onto the highway without looking, and snow sports are similar except the velocities may be higher and you are not cocooned in a steel cage. Take a look up the hill; the sky is somehow even more spectacularly blue above the white of the run and the green of the pines. So it is worth it just for that perspective, but you may also be treated to the appearance (for example) of a thundering crew of skiers coming back from Blue Sky, rockered tips a-flappin’ as they accelerate toward the slow zone of Lower Flap Jack. And you may decide to let them pass you by before you starting again. But if you don’t look, you can’t make that choice.

And if a participant or group of same does not look up before starting in front of you, see suggestion No. 1!

See? Simple, and kind of circularly reinforcing.

And a freebie additional thought:

I am creaky now, but there was a time — long ago (the alphabet had maybe eight letters) — that I was as adrenaline fueled as could be. At the time the best all-mountain skiers were Andre Boesel and Brian McClary, and they were unfailingly polite and patient with guests and wannabe skiers (us!) alike. It made an indelible impression on the rest of us. So don’t hesitate to improve the experience of a fellow snow sport enthusiast. Help a boarder out of a deep snow crash (no poles!), be a blocker behind a snake of kids in a ski school class on the way down at the end of the day (sure, the instructors are in a glamorous, high-paid profession, but they will appreciate it anyway), maybe offer directions on the mountain to someone who is obviously not sure where they are. If nothing more, you will feel good about yourself and you may set an example for others.

Happy New Year’s!

Mitch Whiteford is a Realtor in the valley and wants visitors and residents alike to have too much fun on the mountain.