Vail Daily letter: Quality vs. quantity
Vail faces another threat to the quality of the Vail experience, and that is the serious and growing problem of safety on Vail Mountain in the winter. It appears that Vail Resorts is unwilling to really crack down on the perpetrators of this threat for fear of damaging the “Vail experience” for visitors. While VR can point to the growing numbers of lift tickets sold — so far, I believe that deteriorating safety on the mountain might damage the Vail experience and a growing number of regular Vail skiers agree. “The code”, posted in many places on the mountain and printed on paper napkins, is a list of long-standing common sense skiing guidelines. Unfortunately, there is a growing societal lack of common sense reinforced by a growing sense of “me first” entitlement.
There is no count of the numbers of people who go elsewhere to ski, or stop skiing altogether, because they fear being hit and injured on Vail Mountain. One might say that that fearful group is predominantly a diminishing number of older skiers and not a part of the “target market” of younger skiers and boarders. However, the fearful group does include young families with children and they are part of the target market. The number of injured skiers and snowboarders that the ski patrol hauls off the mountain is only a fraction of the total number of unreported injuries which don’t require ski patrol assistance and the countless “near misses” which go unreported. The “zero tolerance” signs for straight-lining and speed, in general, are largely meaningless because there is zero enforcement.
I chatted with a “yellow jacket” supervisor last September who said that there would be major improvements in the coming 2014-15 ski season. There were significant improvements in control mechanisms and staff at the confluence of Northwoods, Northstar and Flapjack — a very heavily used area by all levels of skiers and boarders. I even saw the yellow jackets apprehend one of three lunatics screaming through that area and ignoring all the signs. The other two ignored them at no cost to themselves.
I shared a ride on Chair 2 with, perhaps, the same supervisor one quiet day and inquired as to how many crazies he had apprehended that day. He said, correctly, that it was a quiet, uncrowded day and that most people were just here to have fun and needed only a quiet reminder/caution to ski/ride more safely. That probably is accurate for the vast majority of “one week per year” vacationing skiers/boarders. And they are undoubtedly the cause of some portion of the collisions due to being out of control and paying inadequate attention to their surroundings. But his comments ignore the greater safety threat caused by, I am sorry to say, numerous local hotshots who consider themselves above those mundane safety rules and regulations made for tourists and, frankly, could not care less.
The improvements in uphill transportation — new high-speed quads (Chairs 10 and 5), new six-packs (Chairs 4 and, next season, Chair 2) increase the numbers of people per hour getting up the mountain, all of whom are coming down the mountain in the same increasingly crowded terrain. Add to that the, fortunately, small, but growing numbers of people on ski bikes, virtually all of whom have zero experience and no clue as to what they are doing and you have a very dangerous mix. Those ski bikes used to be confined to nighttime use at Lionshead. Turning them loose all over the mountain borders on irresponsible. Too many older skiers automatically blame the snowboarders for all the safety problems on the mountain, but that dates back several years to when the overwhelming majority, if not all, snowboarders were high testosterone teenage males with little or no sense. Today, the snowboarder population has diversified and matured and there are just as many irresponsible and dangerous skiers out there (maybe more) as there are irresponsible and dangerous snowboarders.
• The ski patrol should be tasked with patrolling and enforcing safety rules and authorized to revoke lift passes;
• All uniformed employees of Vail Resorts should be empowered to enforce the code and revoke lift passes;
• There probably needs to be a substantial increase in the number of county sheriff’s deputies employed on all weekends, as some are on major holiday weekends.