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The reality of risk

Dear Editor:

I need to correct some errors in my letter about Bash for Cash that ran in The Aspen Times issue on Monday, Jan. 28. I was referring to what I had dimly remembered reading in The Aspen Times on Feb. 28, 1964. The incident inspired three separate items in that issue about Bash for Cash.

The angry letter to the editor (page 7) in 1964 was written by Dr. Robert Barnard, not doctors Oden or Baxter. The Barnard letter was addressed to the local U.S. Forest Service official asking him to forward it up his chain of command to higher officials who decided issues of public safety for ski areas on public land.



Bil Dunaway’s editorial (page 4) condemned the mass start at Loge’s Peak of 10 young men and quoted the Aspen Highlander newsletter touting that the appeal of “collisions can be expected.” Note: The newsletter said “collisions,” not falls.

The news item itself (page 16) quoted Dr. Barnard saying that one of the young racers (Mike Riddell, a Highlands ski instructor) had his upper jaw broken in two places and his upper front teeth torn away and would never look the same. Dr. Oden was quoted saying that a second man had suffered “the worst spiral fracture I’ve ever seen.”




Both had signed hold-harmless waivers that left WVN Jones without any liability.

Spectacular crashes are part of mainstream culture. Who among us old locals has not stood beside a downhill course and been thrilled to see a racer crash at 70 mph? Only two weeks ago, Billy Poole was killed during a Warren Miller film shoot and the AP dispatch was a puff piece that quoted his peers extolling his skill and guts. There was nothing about the legal implications or consequences of his death.

Henry Filip was my next door neighbor for 12 years. His kayaking death on June 28, 1998, in a Class V rapid on the Crystal River had been filmed. The producers turned the film over to his family.

I want to suggest a project for a journalist looking to develop a small scandal worthy of a separate line on his or her resume. Beginning with the extreme skiing/snowboarding press, he or she would track down a victim’s family to investigate the contracts that the victim had signed for performing for a movie. One would investigate whether the moviemaker accepted any liability, paid for any accident insurance for the victim or refrained from commercializing the film of the accident itself such as in a medley of accidents.

Billy Poole was killed on a project with a very big league producer who surely had all those things for his participants. But what about the smaller filmmakers?

The sports mags would never print anything like this aspect of the industry. The trade magazines might somewhere quote a filmmaker saying: “You can’t lose in this business, there’s an endless supply of damn fools lining up to risk life and limb with no risk to me.”

David Bentley

Aspen


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