Alan Steinberg, M.D.: Be thoughtful

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I am a part-time resident of Steamboat, who takes great delight in my frequent visits to my home here. It is an absolute pleasure to return here, and be welcomed by old friends, as well as meet new ones.

A few years ago, I developed a problem with my vision, and as a result have been obligated to wear a “visually impaired” vest on the mountain. What follows are my observations of people and their response to this situation. As an academic geriatric neuropsychiatrist, I also am blessed (or cursed) with a particular interest in the behavior of others. My relative misfortune visually has not limited my ability to observe the myriad of reactions of others when they see an impaired or disabled skier on the mountain.

The following are but some of my observations:

Young women are uniformly eager to offer their assistance, and so, thank you ladies. I do not suggest to my male peers that they take advantage of this by fabricating a disability to their advantage. It does however, warm the heart to see young people volunteer their assistance in a spirit of cheerful friendliness. Steamboat seems to have raised you well.

Giving young men snowboards is akin to giving them keys to a Lamborghini. They represent a danger to others on the mountain and are almost uniformly rude, self-centered and unaware of the danger they pose to others. A disability vest, despite its bright orange color, is not a slalom gate, around which you must pass closely and at great speed. I call upon the authorities to pull such folks over and after appropriate warning, restrict their access to the mountain. Praise should go to the minority who have demonstrated even simple thoughtfulness, such as calling out “on your left” when passing, which would be a good start for all users of the mountain. It should be taught to the children in the ski school, as well, just as we have taught cyclists.

While waiting in a line to get on a lift, approximately one in 10 parties asked if I would care to join their group on the chair. Must people with disabilities always be assertive, or cannot others initiate thoughtfulness? I know this can be a sensitive topic and one may never be assured of the response in advance, but it never hurts to do the right thing for others.

Expert skiers and riders often seem to pay no heed to a disabled skier downslope from them who is skiing a perfectly predictable course. Why must you cut right in front of a disabled skier, when you clearly have the ability to choose your line of descent? This has happened countless times to me and can be quite frightening. Please think of others when you are racing down the mountain. You do not want the responsibility of further injuries on your conscience.

My own brush with this limitation has sensitized me to the perspectives of those less fortunate than me. I have the utmost respect and awe for those I witness skiing and riding with much more severe limitations and being assisted by the wonderful people of the STARS program. I urge all of you to consider donating to this wonderful organization. If you see them, thank them for all they do. There but for the grace of God ...

If you see me (or any other “different” kind of person) on the mountain, give a friendly wave, smile and a hello. It makes a difference.

The vast majority of the people I have encountered have been warm, friendly and considerate. Let us all try to be a little more thoughtful on the mountain that we share.

Respectfully,

Alan Steinberg, M.D.

Comments

steve gadbois 4 months, 3 weeks ago

What a well thought out and well written essay, Dr. Steinberg. With regards to your sentence, "There but for the grace of God ...". I recall being told when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first being made into law that that everyone is only "temporarily abled". Thanks for the reminder.

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Dan Shores 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree but I must take a rather large exception to the suggestion of calling out "on your left, on your right". As a skiing professional with over 20 years experience on the mountain this is one of the most misunderstood and misused so called "courtesies" that exists. It may be OK for bicyclists but is NOT OK for snow sports and by all means should never be taught to anyone, let alone kids. The skier responsibility code clearly states that "people ahead of you have the right of way, it is your responsibility to avoid them." That means that when approaching a slower skier or rider whether on a trail or catwalk you must plan your route so as to avoid the person you are overtaking and stay as far away from them as possible. You should be able to stop at any time should they make an unexpected turn or maneuver. You do not get to "claim a lane" when skiing or riding down a catwalk for instance, and think that you are in the clear if the person you are overtaking fails to heed your warning of "on your right or on your left." No only is this dangerous and discourteous, you are assuming that the person speaks english and can hear you. In addition, it is very unsettling and frightening to new skiers or riders who are already on edge. Thank you.

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rhys jones 4 months, 3 weeks ago

I've got to agree wholeheartedly with Dan on this one: Calling out "On your left (or right)" is the STUPIDEST thing to do. Besides startling whoever you are overtaking, their natural reaction is to look that way, which naturally puts more weight on the opposite ski (assuming it's a skier) and inevitably turns them INTO your path, now requiring an even wider swing around them.

Better to just be silently ready for whatever stupid thing they might do, because often as not, they will. That means an extra-wide path around them -- checking before you swing wide, that you aren't cutting off some fool even stupider than yourself, assuming you have the wherewithal to do that.

At this point I will confess a bias against snowboards -- not the people who ride them, just the platform itself -- while also admitting I have never enjoyed them, partly economics, and partly because my two boards continue to thrill and amaze me.

On a snowboard one is necessarily off-balance at all times, and trying to control and manipulate that. Ideally a skier is in balance at all times. A snowboarder has a 180-degree blind spot, anything behind him/her, while a skier should maintain 360-degree awareness. Snowboarders suffer a much higher incidence of upper-body injuries -- shoulders, arms, clavicles, necks, heads -- while for skiers it remains lower-body, knees primarily, knock on wood, ain't had a problem there in decades.

For all these reasons, I recommend giving boarders an extra-wide berth, and do it in silence.

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Scott Wedel 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Dr Steinberg's experiences seem pretty typical for any slower skier.

There are many skiers and snowboarders that give little or no consideration to slower skiers. That it is all too common for slower skiers to feel intimidated by fast skiers coming uncomfortably close.

I would add to Dan Shores' comment that a cyclist saying "left" or "right" is a request to continue straight or to make more room. That is not as practical for skiers because the slower skier is not going straight down the hill.

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Dan Shores 4 months, 3 weeks ago

It is my experience that people "lean" in the same direction that they look, which would in theory cause them to turn away from the direction that they look, but it doesn't really matter, they are startled and more likely to crash and perhaps injure themselves and others. I also wanted to add as Rhys did that the only time you really want to look up hill and behind you is if you are entering a trail, or if you are skiing or riding and you intend to make a wide turn and go completely across the run. Also be aware that snow boarders do have a blind spot on the back side so be extra careful if you are in that position.

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rhys jones 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Right again, Dan-o. If you are behind a boarder, they could come careening into you at any instant, as they have no idea you are there. Best to get around as soon and wide as possible. They seem to LOVE going backwards at abandon, clear across the run sometimes.

This is not a digression, but an expansion: I'm curious to see how the snow bikes we are seeing in greater frequency work out in the long run. My guess is that when that much metal contacts some soft innocent human tissue, with tragic results, then after the liability dust settles, we will no longer see those up there.

And I'm amazed what passes for skis these days, not that I'm the minimum-length dictator, life couldn't be that good.

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mark hartless 4 months, 3 weeks ago

Gee, I can't imagine why anyone would want to give up such a wonderful sounding sport like this for snowmoblinig...

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erich ferguson 4 months, 3 weeks ago

and after all this time I thought all you had to do was tap your poles together repeatedly to part the unsuspecting ski/ snowboard seas. Stupid me

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Dan Shores 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Clicking your poles is actually a pretty good idea as long as you don't think you have any right of way or can part the seas. It is completely the responsibility of the skier or rider who is overtaking another skier or rider to avoid the person they are overtaking. Any reasonably skilled skier or rider should be able to accomplish this task with ease. One of my favorite peeves is those who consider themselves to be "experts" at their sport but seem to need, or want, people to clear out of their way. It's like wanting the trees to move out of your way when skiing in the closet. Rather ironic.

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