Trading weightlessness for safety

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I've got a confession to make. My idea of the perfect way to end a day of skiing at Steamboat is to scream down the short trail called Sitz and carry my speed through a little compression, up and over the lip of See Me. If I do it just right, I get a momentary sensation of weightlessness before cranking a big giant slalom turn into the fall line.

I don't tuck See Me I make turns and I've never had what anyone would call a "close call" with another skier while skiing the trail. I always get a good look at the slope before me before committing to gravity, and I do like to ski fast down See Me.

However, the trial and conviction last week of former Vail lift operator Nathan Hall in the 1997 reckless skiing death of 33-year-old Allan Cobb sent a sobering message to everyone who lives, works and plays in ski country. All of us who love the sport have to search our souls and ask ourselves what we can do to further the cause of responsible skiing and snowboarding. And maybe,just maybe, we should be asking ourselves if Nathan Hall is taking a fall for the whole skiing world.

That's not to absolve Hall for the reckless skiing he indulged in on that fateful day. And the last thing I'd ever want to do is insult the family and friends of Cobb by somehow dismissing the impact his loss has had on their lives.

Yet, it's a thin line between skiing fast and in control, and skiing out of control. That line is just as wide as the inside edge of your downhill ski. Hold that sharpened edge and you're in control. Lose that edge and you have the potential to become a 200-pound missile. Could I become that out-of-control skier? Could it be you?

I believe to dismiss the possibility would be the equivalent of skiing down See Me with blinders on. The potential that you or I could make a mistake, fall down on our hip, and slide into a child on the slopes is real.

Everyone who has become an advanced skier or rider has experienced the frustration of having a slower skier weave unpredictably back and forth across a ski trail. We've all muttered at them under our breath.

Now, instead of muttering and making a quick turn in order to speed right on by them, I'm going to make a personal commitment to step on the brakes whenever I spy a neophyte in my path.

In the greater scheme of things, my pledge to slow down won't make any apparent difference in the ski industry's drive to make the slopes safer. But it represents a start in an effort Steamboat Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke is making.

Kohnke asks that the entire local ski community begin to take responsibility for avoiding collisions on the slopes I'm willing to do my part.

Does that mean you'll never see me skiing fast on See Me again. Of course not. But what it does mean is that I'll slow down as I come over the crest of the hill so I can be certain there's no one in my path.

I'm going to miss that feeling of weightlessness.

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