Vail Daily column: Slow down and stay in control
Make It Count
Today’s discussion is not about fitness. For those visiting the Vail Valley, or if you haven’t read this column before, usually I discuss fitness and wellness related topics. Today’s discussion is in response to a letter written to the Aspen Times by Brad Unglert.
Brad is tired of less skilled skiers than himself writing letters to the Aspen Times regarding the dangers on the slopes. In his letter titled “Ski fast — take chances,” Brad describes himself as a skier in control who has a given right to ski as fast as he wants, wherever he wants. Even if it scares, or even worse, puts the lives of others at risk. This behavior has to stop. This discussion couldn’t come at a better time as the Vail Valley is packed to peak capacity with visitors this week. Please read this.
MORE PEOPLE ON THE SLOPES
I moved to Vail in 2003 because I have an immense passion for skiing. At the time, the slopes appeared to be less crowded. I remember skiing down Centennial top-to-bottom without passing a handful of other skiers. Within the last few years through momentum Vail Resorts has gained with Epic Pass sales and resort acquisitions, the mountains appear busier than they used to be.
At peak times, the hill is overwhelmed with crowds. This is a good thing by the way. We need a vibrant ski community and a reason for visitors to come back to keep our local economy going in our coveted mountain town. It is equally imperative that skiers take the responsibility and care to slow down in beginner, intermediate and areas specifically designated as slow zones. The blatant disregard for rider safety by those who are oblivious to speed reduction is getting out of control, no pun intended.
Brad said the following: “I’m writing this in response to the recent letters and articles in the local papers about the ‘straightliners’ that are apparently scaring the bejesus out of every man, woman and child on Ajax. You know, the young men in bright clothes on their fat skis wearing headphones — go ahead and stereotype us. You nailed me dead-on. Problem is I’m not out of control and I’m not dangerous. I grew up in Aspen, skiing my heart out. Now I’m 30 years old and a strong, confident skier out for a rip. Skiing is the ultimate expression of freedom and creativity. That’s why we all love it so much. I’m sorry that you’re scared when I blow by you in Spar — I really am. I’ve heard a lot of my fellow ‘double tipped’ brethren say, ‘Don’t ski on Aspen Mountain, then. Go to Buttermilk or Snowmass.’ I don’t agree with that. I think everyone should be able to enjoy the crown jewel of North America.”
IT’S ABOUT RESPECT
Why yes Brad, you should be able to enjoy the crown jewel of North America. But tell me then, what part of enjoying the mountain entitles you to scare skiers by blowing past them? I don’t know about Aspen, but here, Vail — which is arguably as bureaucratic as they come — doesn’t go around harassing good skiers for skiing fast. This is largely because good skiers who ski fast have the foresight to ski fast on terrain where intermediate skiers don’t ski. As a ski community, we have no right skiing wide-open-throttle down intermediate blue runs, especially as we approach slow zones. It doesn’t matter what your perceived skill level is. It’s about the love and respect for our neighboring ski enthusiasts who may not have the same tolerance for speed and perceived control as you.
Last year I was skiing down Northwoods in Vail with a few friends who are intermediate skiers. Out of respect for my friends, I chose to slow down and ski at their ability. I was at a turtle pace when I was violently struck from behind. I was hit so hard — my bindings even set at a 12 — I ripped right out of my skis, damaging one binding, and the force was great enough it tore a buckle off of my boot. I cartwheeled several times. I was told I looked like a 190-pound rag doll; not because I was going fast, but because of the force by which I was hit from an “in control” dude just, ya know, expressing his freedom. I was quite all right from the accident, but came away with a humbling perspective of the dangers in slow zones that aren’t respected by entitled riders.
Brad never alluded to the specific terrain in which he was referring to blowing past other skiers. I don’t want to assume, but I doubt he is blowing by other riders on steep fall line mogul runs or on other ungroomed terrain. That’s not what I’m talking about here. How many mogul runs have you been on where there isn’t enough room to find your own zipper to run without risking hitting someone? How many times have you hiked the bowl at Highlands and didn’t have room to let ’er rip? The overwhelming point isn’t that we ought to slow down. The point is that we need to respect the intermediate and slow skier zones and dial it back. By the way, if you are such an accomplished technical, in control skier, Brad, why not ski fast where it counts? Maybe you aren’t as good, and in control, as you think. Happy holidays and, for goodness sakes, slow down out there!
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.