I was hanging out with my ski patrol buddy the other night and he described his role as enforcer of the rules. I never viewed ski patrol as anything but awesome but apparently some skiers and boarders see them as the enemy of the people, especially when they pull your pass for ducking a rope.
These men and women on patrol take closures very seriously. Apparently runs are not closed to piss people off but because the runs are unsafe and not quite shred-ready. (No, they are not just saving a stash for themselves).
I’m no angel and I’ve gotten away with plenty of risky behavior in my lengthy skiing and boarding career, but I’ve never had my pass pulled and I’ve always respected patrol.
Once I got apprehended at the base of Aspen Mountain by patrol who informed me, “I counted the amount of turns you made up there and I didn’t get up to one.” I promised more turns next time and we went about our day.
But my patrol buddy was describing a work day full of pass pulling and pissed off customers.
“But I just started my vacation,” is a common refrain.
Typically, you can expect to be banished from the resort for two weeks if you get your pass pulled for ducking a rope. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And yes, my friend on the inside described pulling passes from resort employees in year’s past.
Here’s a tip for you if you get “pulled over.” Be nice. Customers who resist or lie or argue are going to get in deeper than they would by just admitting it and taking the medicine. You could just get off with a warning.
Last week my buddy, who patrols at Winter Park,was following someone who had ducked a rope. The guy wiped out and lost a ski. My patrol friend picked up the ski and approached the offender who was livid and incensed. The skier wrestled the ski back, popped it on and took off. The chase began anew and the offender popped off a catwalk and ended up caught in a tree well. My buddy just called the cops and left him there to dig out. Some people are just not worth it.
I know people who have died from avalanches and I’ve been in a very close scrape myself. A lot of slides happen out of ski area bounds in “legal” terrain. Now human-powered snow sports are the fastest growing segment among winter sports enthusiasts. According to SnowSports Industries America nearly 7 million skiers pierced the backcountry during the 2016-2017 season.
A recent article from the Colorado Sun notes that tracking backcountry skiers is a challenge but the “Northwest Avalanche Center Trailhead Project have set up tents at backcountry access points across the Pacific Northwest, surveying skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers as they head into avalanche terrain. They have conducted 1,597 surveys, delivering rare insight about backcountry travelers in the Pacific Northwest. Initial numbers reported in the October issue of The Avalanche Review magazine show 48.4% of respondents reported having no avalanche training and 53.7% were traveling with no avalanche safety equipment.”
Ah, to be young and foolish again. Just this past weekend a snowboarder was caught in an avalanche on closed terrain at Steamboat. According to reports, ski patrol made a heroic effort to save this young man who was in way over his head.
Dave Hunter, VP of operations at Steamboat noted, according to 9 News, “They took a very hard traverse and they ended up putting themselves at the bottom of a closed area and the avalanche propagated from above them. They skied to the bottom of the closure. They took a very hard traverse to skiers’ right, which put them slightly uphill, which put them into an area at the bottom of the chutes. The area where the avalanche occurred is technically closed but the area below them is technically open.”
So it could be argued that the snowboarder didn’t duck any ropes but ended up underneath some very unstable snow and got caught when it slid. Because of many factors including a lot of snow in October, the snowpack in the Colorado high country is unstable in many places.
Ducking ropes inside ski area boundaries will bring you adult supervision or worse. You could lose privileges or get hurt or killed. The last thing ski patrol needs when they catch you is a bunch of attitude. You want patrol to be in a good mood when they rescue you, so pay attention.
Steve Skinner respects patrol. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.