S’mass gets pros to police slopes
Snowmass Ski Area has some expert help this season when it comes to policing the slopes.Five off-duty cops from the Snowmass Village Police Department are helping the mountain safety department, particularly when it comes to dealing with skiers or snowboarders who break rules.”They aren’t policemen up here. They aren’t armed,” said Snowmass General Manager Doug Mackenzie.The five cops are off the police department’s payroll when they are working for the Aspen Skiing Co., Mackenzie said. The five are paid by the Skico to come in on their off-duty days. They combine for 48 hours per week.The off-duty cops wear a uniform supplied by the Skico when they are on the mountain; it’s not an on-slope version of their police uniforms.Snowmass Village Police Chief Art Smythe is out of town for the week and couldn’t be contacted about any rules he applies to the off-duty, on-slope program.Mackenzie said the officers are valuable because of their training in areas such as conflict resolution. It’s often difficult for a regular member of the mountain safety department to handle a customer accused of breaking a ski area rule, such as skiing or riding in a closed area.When that occurs, the off-duty cop is called to escort the suspect off the mountain to a waiting, on-duty law officer.The program isn’t new. Last year the Skico hired six off-duty cops from Snowmass to help patrol the slopes.Snowmass also employs an 11-member mountain safety department with at least two employees working every day. One duty is to help slow skiers and riders down at strategic points on busy days.High-level Skico managers are also “deputized” in mountain safety roles, so they put on special uniforms when they hit the slopes and have the authority to slow customers or detain them for infractions.Mackenzie said use of the off-duty cops and special department is one of several ways the massive ski area is trying to ensure the safety of its customers. Several of those programs were in place even before the conviction last week of Nathan Hall, a Vail skier who was found guilty by a jury last week of criminally negligent homicide for the death of another skier in 1997.Eagle County prosecutors successfully argued that Hall was skiing recklessly and dangerously.Mackenzie said that decision may not provide good publicity for the ski industry, but that’s a secondary concern.”It may be dirty laundry, but we need to get it out in the open and fix the problem rather than sweep it under the rug,” he said.Here are other ways Mackenzie said Snowmass attempts to educate customers on skier safety:-When found guilty of violating a rule, people will be required to watch videos and take a quiz before they can get their season passes or lift tickets back. “We just used to pull their passes and yell at them,” said Mackenzie.About 150 skiers and riders had passes and tickets pulled last season, often for venturing into closed areas or for reckless travel.-Snowmass Ski Area is working with the town government to streamline the legal process for violators. Since the ski area is within incorporated Snowmass Village, the town will consider passing an ordinance that prohibits skiing in a closed area. Cases would then be handled in municipal court rather than getting referred to the district attorney’s office.”We’re not trying to throw people in jail,” said Mackenzie. But violations could be handled more effectively through municipal court, he said.-Education efforts keep expanding. The highlight of those efforts is having the ski patrol work with fifth-graders throughout the Roaring Fork Valley on safety issues. Time is spent in the classrooms and on the slopes. Last year more than 300 kids participated.Fifth-graders are targeted, Mackenzie said, because that’s generally the earliest age that parents allow their kids to go on the slopes without them.As always, the Skico is plastering summaries of the Colorado Skier Safety Act at the base, on lift towers and even on the back of passes and lift tickets.”Being a family area, it’s even more important to us,” said Mackenzie of the safety message.
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