On January 21, 2016

The skier responsibility code

This week I am grateful for some very nice powder turns — it was unexpected, and much appreciated. Grateful for the awesome groomers and snowmakers — I have been skiing every morning. Thankful for my new stationary cycle trainer so that I can keep my legs moving without pounding them on the pavement. Thankful for my two days of uphill travel in the powder — hopefully there will be much more of that to come! And thankful for the skier’s code of conduct (although the slogan, honestly, sounds like something from “Pirates of the Caribbean” … “Keep to the code!”)

The latter of these need a bit of explaining. The skier’s code was developed by and large back when skis were straighter, and turns were less fancy. Modern ski equipment has enabled those of us who care to greatly refine our technique, and really turn the skis instead of sliding them around. This offers all sorts of benefits from snow retention to greater control, and an ability to woo the gender of our preference by demonstrating that we really have the biggest turns. (Seriously. my turn is way bigger than anyone else’s. I’m not compensating for anything, I swear. Honest.)

But these great big swoopy show-offy turns that use the whole trail, left to right, can create several problems: The first problem is that most of the time the people skiing these turns are not the fastest skier on the trail, and they leave no room for anyone to pass them — even if you hug the trail at the edge. Collisions and/or evasive action can result.

The initial reaction of the downhill skier is “Skier’s code number two: People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.”

This is true. But it is not a blanket coverall to be bleated, sheeplike, the minute you encounter trouble with an uphill skier. For the record, I am not calling anyone out with this diatribe. I am simply expressing an opinion.

Aside from number three: “You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above,” which is roundly and consistently ignored, and also frequently leads to collisions, there is number four: “Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others,” and number one: “Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.”

First lets address number four.  This is very simple.  When you are slashing beautiful turns and crossing the trail from the edge, like it or not, you are re-entering the trail.  I know that the letter of the code states “When you are starting downhill,” but it also says “when you are merging into a trail.”

The long and short of it is, you are not the only skier on the trail. It is unlikely that you are the fastest skier on the trail (though most  of us like to think we are), and it is likely that at some point in your ski day, someone is losing their mind behind you trying to figure out how to get past you to open up their ski experience. When you are slashing your gorgeous turns, as it is your right to do, you should be keeping the edge of your uphill eye over your shoulder occasionally looking for approaching skiers (think Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” driving off the cliff with the ground hog: “Never drive angry. Always check your mirrors. Side of your eye. Side of your eye”).  When you change lanes in a car, you check your blind spot. It is just as important in skiing.

To address number one, if a skier who is going faster than you winds up next to you and you hit them because you haven’t left room for a passer or looked where you were going, you’re at fault, because they are no longer behind you, and you aren’t able to stop or avoid them.

The last thing any of us wants is to inadvertently knock someone into the woods. We are all here to have fun.

So, do us all a favor.  If you’re going to use up a significant portion of the trail with your turns, leave some room at the edge for a passer, glance uphill now and then, or better yet, do both. If you’re going to stop, do it on the actual side of the trail.

The world will be a better place for it.

Editor’s note: January is Safety Awareness month. Know the Code before you hit the trails!

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