Rick Carroll: Above the Fold
Ryan Summerlin February 5, 2013
This week, the Times’ online poll aims for an unscientific reading of Aspen’s feelings about being the host town of the Winter X Games in light of Thursday’s death of snowmobiler Caleb Moore.
It’s a fairly straightforward question that asks readers whether they “feel differently about seeing Aspen host the Winter X Games” because of Moore’s fatal fall. It’s also a legitimate question to ask because of the vast opinions swirling around this issue.
The public has been quick to react to the death of Moore, with some calling for the elimination of the X Games event – snowmobile freestyle – that took his life. Others have questioned whether Aspen Skiing Co. should make a hard push to bring the X Games back after its contract expires in 2014.
Moore’s crash, viewed by millions watching ESPN the night of Jan. 24, happened on a makeshift snowmobile course built in the Panda Peak area at Buttermilk, a popular spot for those learning how to ski and snowboard.
But it wasn’t Pitkin County’s first sports-related death this year. As recently as Dec. 30, a Snowmass ski patroller was killed by an avalanche when she was skiing out of bounds. Last summer, two climbers, in separate accidents, joined the long list of adventurers who have fallen to their deaths in the Maroon Bells area. And one fateful day in January 2012, two skiers died at Snowmass – one from hitting a tree and one who was claimed by an avalanche while skiing out of bounds.
These fatalities, and there have been many others over the years, don’t just mark heart-wrenching times for the families and friends of the victims, but they take a toll on this community, as well. But in none of those instances was there a cry, or even a whisper, for putting an end to the pursuits that killed them.
So why all of the hand-wringing after Moore’s death? A sense of responsibility strikes me as the chief factor. That’s because the crash that precipitated his death, which came one week later, happened at the base of an Aspen ski area and was on national television for all to see. Moore’s untimely death also was a byproduct of a sporting culture that pushes its athletes to unfathomable limits.
No doubt, safety measures and improvements always should be addressed by the organizers of the X Games.
But ban the event altogether? Then look no further than the fine print on your ski pass. There, in not-so-plain language, is a reference to the Colorado Skier Safety Act, in which a “skier assumes the risk” of the potential dangers that accompany the sport. That includes the weather, hazards and other skiers and riders.
Moore also assumed the risk of his sport by signing multiple waivers and contracts before he entered this year’s contest. What’s remarkable is that his death is the first one in the 18-year history of Winter X Games.
As for this week’s Web-poll question, or any week’s, we don’t put much stock into the results of our online questions, especially when there’s an orchestrated effort to steer the outcome, which often happens during election season. But despite the questions’ unscientific results, they at least challenge readers to think about a timely subject, if not for just 30 seconds over coffee.
Were I to attempt steering the outcome of this week’s poll, I would note that as tragic as Moore’s death was, it should not signal an end to snowmobile freestyle at the X Games. And, as one of the Web-poll answers suggests, the X Games “is no different than World Cup ski racing, NASCAR, the NFL or NHL.”
Well, there is one difference. And that’s that Aspen was the host city where the Moore tragedy occurred. And as the host city, Aspen was able to enjoy all of the revenue and exposure that came with the X Games. Now, however, it must come to terms with a sense of guilt, whether real or imagined, that is an inherent risk of embracing such a made-for-TV spectacle.
Rick Carroll is managing editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-429-9141.