Tony Vagneur: Ski patrol offered a different ride in the old days
There was a short blurb in the paper the other day about a woman who fell out of an Aspen Mountain ski patrol toboggan on the way down and hurt her head. Apparently, she wasn’t strapped in and it was a courtesy ride, not an injured skier evacuation.
It’s beyond my comprehension to comment on the woman’s condition, either before or after the wreck, as I wasn’t there, so I won’t. But I’m gonna venture a guess that either way, she was going to have a headache the next day. Some sort of music amplifier or speaker of hers hit her in the face as she bounced out, according to the paper.
It’s to the ski patrol’s credit that they sometimes take time out of their busy schedule to transport uninjured people off the mountain, a ski mountain at that. Ski mountain, if you get my drift. But, it’s good practice, if nothing else. Throw a couple of uninjured folks in the rig and head down the mountain, getting the feel of how it all works. Such practice comes in handy when a real emergency arises.
In seven years of hauling uninjured (or injured) people off the mountain, I personally never had one fall out of the rig, nor did any other patroller. Maybe the handholds were better back then.
Speaking of “back then,” it was the ’70s, a tumultuous time on Aspen Mountain. Short skis had come into vogue (although just short, not shaped like today) and kids with limited ability were bombing the mountain with little reserve. They weren’t all that fast, and they weren’t all that good, either, and they generally scared the hell out of people who were going slower, or just watching the whole scene unfold.
Oh sure, there were those who skied the long boards, 210s, 215s, or whatever. Mostly good skiers, some of them still around. Thankfully, they managed to keep the moguls within some sort of pleasurable range. For years, I skied 213s, running GS and slalom gates with them — saving my 205 Miller Softs for avalanche control and other powder days.
Unlike today, it was uncommon for intermediate trails to get groomed every night. Spar Gulch usually turned into mogul city at the narrows, which did a far better job of slowing people down than those “Slow” and “No Straightlining” signs do.
The ’70s also were the days of much partying on the mountain, way more than compared to the Veuve Clicquot booth. A wine picnic here, a smoke-out or a “try this” in the pines there, and many times some hid in the trees as we did the clear, thinking they might have the run of their lives after we’d gone by. We generally managed to flush them out, although it occasionally wasn’t easy, given the attitude or inebriated state some of them exhibited.
On some days, we had no choice but to herd them down to the next toboggan stash (usually the bottom of 3) and hold them there while a deserving patrolman readied the rig, tying their skis into the sled and positioning the temporarily uncoordinated patrons along the top, sitting on their skis and the blankets and gear underneath.
Grand Junction (phone 5) was the rendezvous spot for the east side clear and we’d all meet there. If someone didn’t show, we knew we had a problem, such as an injured skier, or something of that nature. No radios in those days.
As the patrolman driving the rig with the “hoofers” on it approached this confluence of Spar Gulch and Copper Bowl, he’d take the brake off and pick up some good speed and then, going very fast, he’d drop the brake at the front of the toboggan and spray the living hell of those bumming a ride. It never failed to elicit a few whoops and hollers from the patrol.
As they quietly sat, realizing they’d been had, we’d give them a couple of minutes to clean the caked-on snow off their faces. We had very few repeat customers.
Now I know this all sounds interesting, and maybe makes you nervous, thinking you might have to avail yourself of a toboggan ride off the mountain. Let me assure you that the above was for safety and to impress the point that being wasted on the mountain is not a good idea.
An injured skier is transported off the hill ever so gently, very slowly, so that it is unusual to feel a bump or to think you are going very fast. In 2010, I was transported off Elevator Shaft in Silver Queen with a broken neck. Ed Pfab and Scott Scharin were so good with the rig that I hardly had any sensation of travel at all.
Sorry you fell out of the rig; sorry you got a laceration. Sorry you didn’t get to ski down. Just remember, Aspen Mountain is a ski mountain.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
For the last 35 years I’ve been covering what we call the “salmon wars” in the Pacific Northwest, writing so many stories about salmon heading toward extinction that I’ve lost count.
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