Our View: SlopeWise off to a good start this winter

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The report this week that a 52-year-old Littleton man was arrested at the Steamboat Ski Area on suspicion of assaulting a teenage girl after a mild collision on the slopes underscores the importance of the ski resort's "SlopeWise" safety program.

The suspected case of slope rage is disturbing, but the truth is that it isn't representative of what has unfolded on Steamboat's ski trails this winter. Statistics provided by the resort's ski patrol director indicate SlopeWise could be having a positive effect in its first year.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. added 18 courtesy patrollers this winter in an effort to contact skiers and snowboarders who were endangering others by skiing in an unsafe manner. Ski area officials said the mission was important enough that they would invoke stiffer penalties for skiers observed skiing recklessly or causing collisions.

It would be reasonable to expect that the number of "skier education contacts" made this winter by the full-time ski patrol and the courtesy patrol have increased. But that has not been the case. As of last week, the ski area had contacted 407 skiers and snowboarders to ask them to ski more responsibly. In other recent seasons, as many as 600 people have been contacted at this point in the ski season.

Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said he is encouraged by the trend and that he takes it as a sign that Steamboat skiers are responding to the SlopeWise program.

The desire to avoid unnecessary injuries is the obvious reason behind SlopeWise. But we think it's more than that. Winter resorts are in stiff competition with beach destinations and cruise lines for the vacationing public's dollars.

A big part of succeeding in that competition is reassuring parents that their families will be safe on the slopes and won't have to constantly look over their shoulders to ward off collisions with more aggressive skiers and snowboarders.

The success of our resort economy depends, to a degree, on this effort. And we commend the ski area for taking it on. To fail to do so would be irresponsible.

Of the 400-plus skiers asked to ski more responsibly this winter, 61 have had their skiing privileges temporarily suspended. Only four have had their passes suspended for 30 days, and of those, three were deemed responsible for causing collisions.

Steamboat is in the middle of a snow season of legendary proportions, and we hate to see anyone miss out on the fun, even for a week or two. But Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke assures us that everyone who uses good judgment on the mountain should enjoy a trouble-free skiing experience during the second half of this amazing winter. That means skiing slower and under control wherever "slow" signs are posted on Mount Werner.

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