My first ski day of the season found me a lot more observant of the skiers around me. As a ski patrolman, I was always conscious of other skiers and how their skiing affected other skiers on the slopes. But this year was different. After more years of skiing than I care to add up, I received my first injury last season.

As I made a turn to access a lift, I was hit by a snowboarder, and we both wound up in the woods. On rising I reached for a tree for balance (Fortunately, she went on one side and I on the other, neither of us hitting anything solid) and immediately felt pain in my shoulder. I knew from my first aid experience that it was not a dislocation but something was seriously wrong. Knowing there was no doctor or x-ray equipment in the aid room I declined a ride down and a visit to the ski patrol. A month later, I had surgery to repair my left rotator cuff, and I can report that everything went well, and while rehab caused me to miss the golf season, I am back on skis with no problems other than an increased awareness of the skiers around me and a vow to ski more mid week.

This experience also prompted me to write this column early. The National Ski Areas Association has expanded skier safety week to the entire month of January, but that’s too late. Skiers need to hear this message now. As usual, the safety campaign will focus on the skier’s responsibility code which is a good start.

Simply it reads:

1. Always stay in control

2. People ahead of you have the right of way

3. Stop in a safe place for you and others

4. Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield

5. Use devices to prevent runaway equipment

6. Observe signs and warnings and stay off closed trails

7. Know how to use the lifts safely

According to the ski patrolman at the scene, the young lady accused me of cutting her off. I pointed out to him that as the up hill or overtaking skier it was her responsibility to avoid all below. See code No. 2. The Colorado Skier Safety Act spells it out clearly: “The person higher on the hill has the responsibility to avoid people below, and if something happens that skier or boarder is at fault.”

Skiers have neither signal lights nor rear view mirrors, and as I used to point out to skiers following such incidents, “If you’re good enough to overtake someone, you should be good enough to avoid them.”

Safety and the ski patrol came to my attention riding the Mixing Bowl Quad at Sunday River. After a quiet start, the beginner area was busy so I slipped through the singles line and found myself riding with three other skiers. The young lady beside me was obviously a racer wearing tight race pants and slalom skis. As we rode the lift, the man beside her began talking about a run in with the ski patrol. Apparently, she had skied too fast into a slow-skiing area and had been cautioned by a patroller. It was her father who told her you can’t win an argument with a (expletive) with a badge.

Now I know how the Sunday River ski patrol operates and whenever it becomes necessary for a patrolman to approach a skier in this situation, they will be polite and make the request quietly. They don’t make threats about lift tickets and only in extreme circumstances would they ever remove one. I listened in silence as the young woman, obviously embarrassed, begged her father to stop shouting in her ear.

On my way to the lift, where skiers come into a congested area, I had seen a collision, nothing serious — just two inexperienced skiers sideswiping each other as they tried to slow down. Both were unhurt and helped each other up. No harm but a demonstration of the reason for the big SLOW signs.

Reflecting on what I had seen and that bloviating parent I considered one point he made, “Which is more dangerous, a little kid who can’t turn, or a racer who is in total control?” Looking back over many years of patrolling, I knew on that one he was partially right. I rarely if ever had a problem with a racer. They skied fast but under total control. The problems came from the usual suspects, young males whose ability didn’t come close to their own perception. Many of them were accidents looking for a place to happen.

I did wonder what he would have said had he known the skier sitting next to his daughter was a former director of the Sunday River Ski Patrol. I simply listened and he wished me a pleasant day as he skied off to ride a lift to the upper mountain.

That experience made me think of skier safety and the ski patrol. I hope if that father or his daughter ever needs the services of the ski patrol that he will understand they are not “expletives with a badge.” I know of no other sport or activity where a rescue team is standing by in the event someone is injured. There are risks in skiing, but we can control most of them with a little common sense and observing the responsibility code. I feel safer on the mountain than I do driving to the mountain. And I take comfort from knowing how well trained and equipped the ski patrol is, but they do need our help in skiing responsibly. See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.


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