Mazzuca: Have a safe (snow) holiday |

Mazzuca: Have a safe (snow) holiday

With great early season snow and more on the way (hopefully), I thought I would take a moment to address a topic that’s near and dear to my heart — the importance of mountain safety.

The Skier’s Responsibility Code is the best place to start: It’s the skier’s responsibility to ski under control, people ahead of you have the right of way, etc., etc. — in fact, the entire code is printed in detail on the back of your ski passes, on napkins at mountain restaurants and on signage all over Vail and Beaver Creek, so I am not going to regurgitate them here, but they are certainly worth reading.

Still, some folks just don’t seem to get it.  Many feel that somehow the rules don’t apply to them. I taught skiing here for 15 years and once conducted an informal poll of instructors and patrollers to find out what “situations” they felt presented the greatest hazards on the mountain. 

Their answers were almost unanimous. No. 1 was people skiing and riding beyond their abilities and not under control, especially in crowded areas.  No. 2 was people stopping in places where they obstructed a run or were not visible to those above them. And No. 3 was people who start downhill or merge into a trail without looking uphill and yielding to others.

I also asked what percentage of out-of-control skiers and boarders were male versus female — the answer, “almost exclusively males.” The next question was, what age group seemed to most “push the envelope.” Not surprisingly, the answer was males in their teens to late-20s. 

(Also not surprisingly, these observations conform almost precisely to the actuarial statistics of the automobile insurance industry. Automobile insurers understand that males aged 16 to 25 represent a significantly higher insurance risk and therefore they are charged significantly higher insurance premiums.)

I’m not going to defame an entire demographic because most young skiers and riders are safe, courteous and aware; but unfortunately far too many present a legitimate hazard to others on the hill because high speeds combined with inadequate spacing spells trouble. Now to be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with skiing and riding fast when under control — but only with proper spacing! So out of respect for others on the hill, please be aware out there, be cognizant of your periphery and maintain your spacing.

I didn’t want this commentary to become a lecture, so I’d like to close by offering a few suggestions that might make everyone’s day on the mountain more enjoyable and a little safer.

  1. After getting on a chair, ask or notify those riding up with you that you’re going to pull down the safety bar — even if someone is wearing a helmet, a “thunk” on the head never feels good.
  2. Whe getting off the chair, tell those riding with you which direction you’ll be going when you get off. 
  3. When skiing on cloudy or snowy days when the light is flat, remember, you can see much more clearly when you’re within one tree-length of the trees on the sides of the runs — not only that, but the snow is usually better and there are fewer skiers.
  4. When on catwalks, try imagining a line down the middle of the catwalk and ski either to the left of the right of it. In other words, stay out of the middle — it will keep you and those behind your safer. 
  5. And finally, an alert and energetic skier is in all likelihood a safer skier, so the time to begin hydrating for tomorrow’s ski day is immediately after skiing today. A good rule to follow is to end each day on the mountain with a couple of glasses of water.

So, to our many out-of-town guests (and locals too), have fun, ski safely and enjoy your visit — and a very Merry Christmas to all.

Quote of the day:  “There are no friends on a powder day!” — Unknown

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