Gustafson: Mind the skier code |

Gustafson: Mind the skier code

Saturday mornings in the winter were the best. We would wake up and shuffle downstairs early, cozy up in front of our 13” Blackstripe CRT Tube TV with faux woodgrain and tune into Saturday morning cartoons — the one day of the week when the TV seemed to cater to kids and we were allowed an hour of screen time.

With the theme songs to “Gummy Bears” and “Punky Brewster” still streaming through my head, my sisters and I would sit down to a bowl full of Honey Nut Cheerios, choke down the chalky Flinstone vitamins and gear up to hit the slopes for ski school.

At the age of five, I was a happy, go-lucky little skier in Snowbunnys. Wearing my hand-me-down onesie and my rainbow pompon hat with my mom’s old goggles halfway on my face, I remember the slow swooping turns we would make playing follow the leader while learning to navigate the hillsides. It was challenging but exhilarating. I would sing the “Gummy Bears” theme song at the top of my little lungs until the kids in front of me stopped and I would hit my personal mute button and snap into my power-pie snowplow and cruise to a slow stop.

Sometimes we all went down like dominos in a tangled heap of poles and goggles, so I preferred the back of the line.

One fateful morning, that same ski season, while sailing across the hill, I heard the instructor holler something and I looked uphill just in time to face, head on, a rogue Snowbunny who had decided he’d had enough crisscrossing and wanted to tuck straight down.

It was one of those collisions that I can almost still feel; a crash where the blow to your head causes a sickening flash of lights and you can hear it echoing around in your skull, leaving a metallic taste in your mouth. I was laying downhill facing up at the blue sky and I remember the odd shape of a triangular cloud, and then I woke up on a mat on the floor somewhere and my mom was there. So was the kid who had hit me. He also was hurt. I never remember being mad, just scared.

But it changed the course of my free-spirited attitude toward skiing. I was cautious and always acutely aware of my periphery. I found it much more difficult to focus on my own skiing, as I was now so conscious of everyone on the hill above and below me. I could only feel really comfortable if I knew I had the run all to myself or when I was in the back of the pack.

By the next season, with a new baby-pink one-piece and a rhinestone belt, the “ThunderCats” theme song empowering me — and after a little boy in my ski group proposed to me on the lift — I decided I liked skiing again.

Unlike my ski-racing-sister, however, I never quite loved the sport in the same way again. I still sang my way down the hill, “ThunderCats HOOOO,” but always peaked over my shoulder.

Today, I am a defensive Mama skier who shadows my kids from an uphill perspective, ready to take the brunt of a hit from anyone speeding out-of-control toward them. It’s what we parents do. We try our best to protect and even buffer our kids from the things that hurt us when we were young, hoping to shelter them from any of the pain we may have endured.

But I still hear upsetting stories of preventable accidents, and with conditions as they are, I urge everyone to follow the skier code and keep it under control. Be conscious of kids, too. They are more erratic. And for the love of humanity, if you cause an accident, please don’t ditch the scene. We can do better than that as a community.

It’s dirt-level low to ski off if you are involved in a crash. Leaving an injured individual who may be in critical need of help is gutless. You know who you are, and guilt be with you if you have ever done that.

Here’s friendly reminder to follow the Colorado’s Ski Safety Act’s responsibility code:

1. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

4. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.

Crashing is part of life. Sometimes we can only control how we approach our surroundings, control our own experiences and choose how to react in the moment.

As poet, novelist and cultural critic Wendell Berry said, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

As a community, we can all safely enjoy our mountains if we take personal ownership and acknowledge our limits and, particularly, the limitations presented by our current less-than-stellar conditions.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at

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