Aspen-area resorts embrace Jan. National Safety Month
The Aspen Times
On an average day, Aspen Mountain ski patroller Steve Rausch will have four or five separate conversations with skiers and snowboarders about slowing down.
Rausch, who has patrolled between Aspen and Snowmass for 20 years, said the point of these conversations is not to crack down but to educate. This approach is in line with National Safety Month, an effort that runs through January encouraging common sense on slopes across America.
“Education goes a lot further than just pulling somebody’s pass,” Rausch said. “We realize people are really good skiers, but just give respect in the flow zones and slow down for the people who might not be as good or stable in their turns.”
Rausch is yet to pull anyone’s pass this year, and he hopes to keep it that way. He said that for a situation to get to that point, the skier or snowboarder would have to show blatant disregard through repeated warnings.
“For me, 100 percent of the time people are like, ‘Yep, got it. I understand,’” he said. “You see them later in the day, and they are slowing down. Obviously we’re excited — we’ve got good snow right now. Everybody’s having a good time. I think if you can just take a few seconds and have a conversation, they’re super responsive.”
What the patrol wants to avoid, he said, is tending to skiers and snowboarders who are injured unnecessarily, especially during a crowded holiday week.
Snowboarder Leonard Dalton was on Aspen Mountain on Thursday taking laps on the Ajax Express Lift on a route he calls “the jump line.” He said that ultimately, the most important thing is to keep an eye out for other people, especially this time of year. When trails such as Spar Gulch and Copper get choked out, he stays on the sides and merges, and he’s not afraid to take the occasional speed check.
“Really, my concerns — ending my life would probably be the primary one,” Dalton said. “It descends in order from that, from deathly-type situations to less deathly-type situations.”
Rocks, avalanches and anything that could precipitate a nasty fall are the things Dalton avoids. Whether you’re a skier or snowboarder, he said, you have the same concerns: avoiding mistakes, either your own or somebody else’s.
“We’re all brothers out here, and we face the same troubles every day,” Dalton said. “We face the same highs and lows throughout the days.”
On Thursday, Phil Cutting, who was riding the Silver Queen Gondola with his wife, Elsa, returned to Aspen for the first time in about 40 years. A Florida resident, he said they spend a lot of time at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont.
“We could afford a vacation in Aspen, so here we are,” Cutting said. “Once in a lifetime.”
He talked about the prospect of wearing a helmet while skiing, which he said he only does when skiing giant slalom. Though he takes no issue with anyone else wearing theirs, he said he’s never found the right fit, and usually it creates too much wind noise.
Skier Jamie Britt, who also was riding the gondola Thursday, said she didn’t really think about how much is at stake while skiing until eight years ago. It was then that her partner was severely injured during a competition at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His helmet cracked, and a helicopter carried him off the mountain.
“I didn’t really think about those kinds of things before the injury,” Britt said. “But I still like to go skiing. It’s part of our lives.”
Like Rausch, Britt said those who know the mountain well are the ones who should tone it down.
“There’s a lot of people who aren’t great skiers (on the mountain) right now,” she said.
Rausch said that if there’s a message for skiers and snowboarders, it’s to show respect and be courteous.
“Really good skiers don’t really need to show their stuff in the flow zone,” he said. “People know they’re good skiers. I think the best skiers are the ones who do slow down and give room. Be considerate, relax, have fun and just show that respect on the hill.”
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”