Steamboat Ski Area officials will add safety personnel to the slopes this winter at the same time they broaden the penalties for reckless skiers and snowboarders. It's part of an initiative called SlopeWise intended not only to improve safety on the slopes, but also to enhance customers' comfort levels.
Steamboat Ski Patrol has followed through in the past on the practice of suspending the passes of skiers and riders who ski recklessly. Now, skiers or snowboarders colliding with another below them on the hill will have their passes suspended for 30 days. Repeat offenses would result in lift privileges being revoked for the balance of the season. A panel of Ski Corp. department leaders would review individual cases.
Ski Area President Chris Diamond told the City Council on Nov. 1 that he is intent on changing the way safety provisions are enforced on the hill. In particular, he said he was tired of skiers and snowboarders who collide with people below them and blame it on other people because they were skiing unpredictably.
"We somehow got into this whole 'He cut me off thing," Diamond told the council. "It's got to change. We will put a bigger team of (safety) volunteers on the mountain, and there are going to be consequences."
If another skier or rider cuts in front of you and you collide with them, you are responsible, Diamond said. A publicity campaign undertaken by the ski area makes it plain: "No matter how skilled you think you are, if you are unable to avoid other people or objects, then by definition, you are out of control."
Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said Steamboat would increase the number of full-time paid courtesy patrollers it employs from eight to 12 this winter. And the number of volunteer courtesy patrollers will grow from four to 18.
Despite the stern message behind the SlopeWise program, Allen said the intent is more about education than police actions.
"It's to have the communication necessary to change the culture out there and improve the etiquette of skiers," Allen said.
Courtesy patrollers receive special training in dealing with the public, and they will be instructed to seek and recognize skiers who are behaving responsibly as well as those skiing recklessly.
Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke agreed with Allen.
"We don't want this to come out like we're out to get everyone's (season ski) pass," Kohnke said. However, Ski Patrol wants to change the behavior of reckless skiers.
Kohnke said he doesn't think there have been more skier and snowboarder collisions the past few years than there have been historically. However, he said several groups of skiers have become more sensitive to reckless skiers and are telling Ski Corp. officials they want more done about the situation.
Those groups, Kohnke said, include aging baby boomers who remain avid skiers but no longer have the strength of youth. They feel threatened by skiers and riders zooming by. Some of them have had multiple knee surgeries and are more preoccupied with preserving their joints, he added.
Another group includes young couples with young children who want to ski as a family but find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders in fear. Finally, Kohnke said a growing number of people are turning to the loose-heel style of skiing known as telemark skiing. They probably were accomplished Alpine skiers but their level of security has regressed with the change of equipment.
"We want to enhance the comfort level of our guests. There's a lot of angst out there in society. We'd like skiing to be preserved as a place to go and get away from that," Kohnke said.
Kohnke and Allen urge skiers and riders to "go with the flow" in areas of Mount Werner that are marked for slow skiing because they are typically congested.
Allen suggests skiers take the same approach to skiing that they adopt for defensive driving.
Just as defensive drivers approach four-way intersections assuming the other driver might run the stop sign, advanced skiers moving at higher rates of speed should assume the less-skilled skier below them will make an unpredictable traverse directly into their path, he said. The uphill skier must allow sufficient room to apply the brakes and avoid the downhill skier.