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Todd Hartley: Kids, don’t try this at home

It seems I owe the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol a big apology as a result of last week’s column. Before I get to the apology, though, let me recount how all this came to light.

Last week I wrote about how, on Thanksgiving Day, I had been skiing Ajax and cut out through the top of Gent’s Ridge to an area known as Uncle Wiggly’s Tree Farm.

Uncle Wiggly’s, as it turned out, was chock-full of rocks, and my run down it left me with nearly ruined skis, a bruised hip from a wipeout and an even more bruised ego, as my ill-fated trip was witnessed by some obnoxious friends of mine who happened to be going by on the gondola at exactly that moment.



Uncle Wiggly’s was also, as it turned out, closed. In my meager defense, I didn’t duck any ropes or ski past any closed signs that I could see, and mine was not the first set of tracks to go there that day. But this is not about defending my actions. What I did was wrong, and I freely admit it.

Anyway, I wrote a column about my misadventures and considered it little more than an innocuous piece of semi-journalistic fluff. Mildly entertaining, I hoped, but nothing that I thought would evoke any sort of controversy.




Boy, was I wrong.

I didn’t find out just how wrong until I went skiing again on Monday, the lesser of the two big powder days last week, and had an encounter with the ski patrol.

It all started pleasantly enough. My friends and I, after a great run down the Face of Bell, rode up Lift 6, and at the top we ran into a small group of people milling about two ski patrollers. We sensed that maybe the patrollers were going to lead a tour down one of the Dumps, most of which had not been opened, and so we waited to see what was up.

Our patience was rewarded minutes later when the patrollers announced that we could all ski a run down Bearpaw so they could assess what sort of shape it was in. We all took off whooping and hollering and had a great run down through the untracked powder in the trees.

When we got to the bottom, my friends and I rode up Lift 6 again, and we waited at the top for the patrollers, hoping to be in the right place if they decided they needed to assess the condition of any of the other Dumps.

As the patrollers came up the lift, I gave them a much-deserved ovation by banging my poles together and cheering for them. But then, as they got off the lift, something strange happened; one of them called out, “Which one of you is Todd Hartley?”

I raised my hand dutifully, not knowing what this was all about, and the patrollers came over and read me the riot act about my column for the next 10 minutes. They claimed that the patrol was very, very upset with me. They saw my column as “rubbing their faces in it,” and they had considered putting me on the “pull list,” which would have meant taking my pass away.

Needless to say, I was shocked. I hadn’t the faintest idea my column would cause this sort of reaction. I apologized profusely and endured my public tongue-lashing, but the incident left me rattled, to say the least.

Then, the next day, there was a letter to the editor in this very paper wherein a patroller named Tim Cooney called me dimwitted and a one-celled protozoan and claimed I dealt a serious blow to Darwinism. (I’m still not sure what he meant by that.)

I was, to say the least, flabbergasted. My column was not meant to “trivialize safety,” as Cooney claimed, and I certainly wasn’t bragging, as he seemed to think.

I had thought that by explaining what happened to me in Uncle Wiggly’s, my column would serve as a cautionary tale to anyone else who might be considering going into a closed area. After all, the run had left me nothing but battered and bruised. I certainly didn’t intend to send the wrong message to any young skiers.

So let me wrap up this column by saying to any skiers, young or old, that you should respect all trail closures, whether they are clearly marked or just implied. Take it from me, there’s a reason why those areas are closed. Furthermore, you should respect and thank the ski patrol for the great, and largely unappreciated, job that they do keeping the mountains safe for all of us.

And to the ski patrol, I offer a sincere apology. I wasn’t trying to rub anyone’s face in anything, and I wasn’t trying to downplay safety or imply that it was cool to poach closed areas. In fact, I thought I was trying to state exactly the opposite case. Apparently, this is not how my column came across. I am truly sorry, and I can only hope I didn’t cause you too much stress or aggravation.

[Todd Hartley’s column appears in Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at todd@aspentimes.com]


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