Lessons in respect, responsiblity
January 1, 2007
Aspen, CO Colorado”Welcome to Colorado, enter at your own risk.” I’ve always thought that should be the welcoming sign at the state line. This is a dangerous place – people maim themselves and die quite frequently here in the mountains. The warning sign needs to be displayed especially for people like New Yorker Larry Miller, who took an unfortunate turn when he skied below Walsh’s on Aspen Mountain Dec. 8. He found himself trekking through unforgiving terrain for four hours before he wound up on Highway 82 near Independence Pass. He’s lucky that all he suffered was a torn ACL.It was a dumb move to be sure. What’s even dumber is that instead of feeling grateful for coming out alive, Miller has spent much of his energy blaming the Aspen Skiing Co. for his mistake. He’s considering suing, saying, “[my] life is worth something.” Miller claims he didn’t see the out-of-bounds rope that stretches 10 feet above the Lud’s Lane catwalk. He told The Aspen Times the day after the ordeal that if there is a dangerous zone, there should be a rope at knee level or bamboo stakes to clearly mark it. Perhaps Miller needs reminding that the entire state is a danger zone and not every square inch can be marked indicating that.Why is it so difficult for people to take personal responsibility for their actions? It’s not the Skico’s fault that Miller made a bonehead move. Perhaps Miller should familiarize himself with the skier’s safety act. Under Colorado law, “a skier assumes the risk of any injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing and may not recover from any ski area operator for any injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing …”Miller doesn’t have a leg to stand on if he does choose to sue the Skico. In the past 12 years, the Skico has gone to court twice over similar lawsuits, said Dave Bellack, the Skico’s attorney. The company has been sued dozens of times and threatened with hundreds of lawsuits. Luckily, the skier’s responsibility code has proven effective in protecting ski areas from frivolous lawsuits. Perhaps Miller ought to make a New Year’s resolution to stop being so high maintenance, be a grown-up and own up to the fact that he made a stupid mistake.He also has complained that the Skico didn’t respond quickly enough to his requests for digital photos showing how the closed area was marked. Ever heard of a trail map, Larry? It’s right there in black and white. Maybe he should have asked himself why the snow looked so good all of a sudden, why the rope was there, and what the connection between the two was.Miller also is upset that no one from the Skico contacted him to see if he was feeling all right. “I came to Aspen as a cheerful tourist and ski enthusiast,” Miller wrote in an e-mail to me. “I left thankful to be alive, but angry, injured, alone, and made to feel guilty for what had happened to me … I feel that Skico’s treatment of me has been deplorable to say the least.”Perhaps the Skico should have followed up with Miller right away to see if he was all right, but given the tone of his threatening and demanding voice mails to the powers-that-be, I can see why his calls went unreturned. He’s also upset that the Skico only refunded two days of his three-day pass. Please, give it a rest, Larry. You are alive, that should be enough.The issue of signage in closed sections within ski area boundaries has recently come to light in the wake of the avalanche that killed 25-year-old Blake Davidson. He tragically lost his life last month after skiing in expert terrain at Snowmass Ski Area – a section that was closed.There’s some question as to whether Davidson and his friends knew that that the section was closed, since they traversed into the area well below the closed sign. As a result, the Skico is re-examining how closed terrain is marked at all of its ski areas.Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said it’s routine for the company to re-evaluate its policies after such incidents. “Whether it’s Larry Miller or Blake Davidson, there’s going to be a review,” he said.The two incidents are completely different and shouldn’t be compared – Miller’s incident occurred as a result of ignorance; Davidson’s was a tragic accident. Miller skied below a rope into bushes and then immediately looked for someone to blame. Nine times out of 10, Davidson, an expert skier, would have hit that knoll in Rayburn’s Chute without incident. It was a tragic accident that could have only been prevented if Davidson chose not to risk it.The bottom line here is that people need to have a healthy respect for closures and take responsibility if they choose not to. Litigation isn’t the answer. But it’s wise for the Skico to review its closure policy, making it absolutely clear that certain areas are off limits if there is question. But remember, this is God’s country. Entering it is a risky proposition, and the only way to exit unscathed is to have respect for it.Carolyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.