How to Avoid Being “That Guy” on the Slopes.
Anyone who has spent any time skiing or snowboarding has had the inevitable, and often embarrassing, etiquette issue arise. I’ve had two memorable experiences in my four decades on the mountains.
The first came at Sunday River in Maine. I was on my snowboard, cruising along at a moderate pace on a fairly bumped up trail. It was a gorgeous day, with bluebird skies and outstanding snow conditions. Suddenly, though, a skier slashed by me on my blind side, narrowly missing the front of my board.
At the trail juncture, I passed the skier and a few of his buddies, and told him: “Hey, pal, that was a little too close.” His response? “Screw you, dude. You were in my line.” I nearly lost my mind. His tone clearly indicated that “his line” took priority over the safety of the skiers and riders below him, an arrogance that violates one of the time-honored tenets of ski etiquette: The downhill skier always has the right of way.
The only thing that kept us from coming to blows that day was my wife, Lauri, getting between us (and the fact that I couldn’t unbuckle my bindings quick enough). It wasn’t my proudest moment, but I couldn’t believe that a skier would display such blatant disregard for others.
The second incident came halfway across the country, at Copper Mountain in Colorado. This was the 1990s, when resorts throughout North America were trying to come to grips with snowboarding. The financial benefits made opening resorts to snowboarding a no-brainer, but the “bad boy” culture that accompanied the sport threatened to disrupt slopeside tranquility.
In an effort to encourage better skier/rider relations, Copper introduced its “Shrediquette” program. Basically, that program reiterated the basic rules of responsible skiing, while acknowledging a few snowboard-specific issues, such as hitting jumps on the natural ramps that form at trail crossings. My wife and I were skiing with her folks, and my mother in-law inquired about all the “Shrediqutte” signs posted near the lift lines.
“Are snowboarders really that bad,” she asked. Just as I was about to launch into my patented spiel about snowboarders general being good citizens, the two of us slid up behind a pack of riders in line. And there, for the world and my mother in-law to see, was a board adorned with a large sticker that announced: “The Anal Intruder.” I blanched. This was no way to create a “warm and fuzzy” atmosphere on the hill.
Now, full disclosure. Both these moments happened many years ago. But I think they still underscore the need for everyone to get along on the slopes. Resort officials really don’t have a choice. They can’t allow a few bad apples ruin the winter wonderland experience for the majority. Ski patrol members have become more vigilant about removing tickets for bad behavior, and I applaud those efforts. More importantly, ski resorts have done a tremendous job building terrain parks that offer skiers and riders all the elements and air that their little hearts desire.
Of course, there’s always a “freeride” element, among both skiers and snowboarders that wants to ply its trade anywhere on the mountain. I get that, to a degree. One, terrain parks can get crowded, and even a little crazy. Two, no one wants to be told where they can and cannot ski and/or ride, especially if they’re paying top dollar for a lift ticket. In that regard, I’m perfectly fine with any skier or rider hitting any trail they want (and can handle). I just ask them to follow some basic, common sense rules. The idea is to make certain that everyone has a good time. Don’t be selfish. Consider others.
Below is the Skier’s Responsibility Code published by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) and the National Ski Patrol (NSP), with a few additional editorial comments. According to the NSSA, “education, helmet use, respect and common sense are very important when cruising down the mountain.” The NSAA developed the code to help skiers and boarders understand that there is an undeniable element of risk in snowsports, but that risk can be managed with a modicum of common sense, empathy, and personal awareness.
So, without further ado:
One. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects. If you plan to open up the throttle and let your skis run, make sure you have ample space, and know the trail ahead. Icy patches and fast edges can be a scary combination. In the same vein, understand your own abilities, and make sure the terrain matches your skill set. A beginner on a black diamond trail is asking for trouble. Likewise, an expert on a beginner trail needs to know to dial it back.
Two. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them. Period. The reason for the rule is simple. People ahead of you (or below you) are typically looking downhill. They can’t see you. It’s like the knucklehead from Sunday River mentioned above. It’s impossible for the skier below to know what your “line” is. In fact, your line should be the one that avoids others. There’s no excuse for collisions, or even close calls.
Three. Never stop in a spot where you obstruct a trail, or aren’t visible from above. Be fair to the uphill skier or rider, and make sure they can see you. There’s nothing more terrifying (and I’m speaking from personal experience) then flying over a roller, only to see a small child sitting underneath. As a parent myself, I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that their children aren’t creating a hazard.
Four. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others. This is another time when you, as the downhill skier or rider, don’t have the right of way. It’s like pulling onto the highway; you need to look at who is coming up behind you. If you get rear-ended, it’s more than likely your fault. Take time to take a peek.
Five. Always use devices to prevent runaway equipment. Most modern alpine ski bindings have “brakes” built in. Snowboards and telemark skis usually require some kind of leash. Use them.
Six. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas. Most trail junctures have bright orange “SLOW” signs installed to underscore the potential danger of merging traffic patterns (especially if your vision is obstructed by trees). As far as trail closures, “poaching” is a considered by some to be a rite of passage. That’s a misguided notion. Sneaking onto closed trails is just dumb. Resorts close trails because they’re not safe. If you get hurt, you abdicate any right to cry about it later. The same holds true if you get your ticket pulled.
Seven. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely. This is a subtle rule with big implications. You also have to know where that lift is going, and be confident that you can handle the terrain you find there. I once accidentally brought my eight-year-old daughter to the top of a super steep expert trail at Solitude in Utah because I got on the wrong lift. I’m still not sure she’s forgiven me (and she’s 19 now).
Both the NSAA and the NSP admit, however, this is a partial list. So I’d like to add a few personal rules (or pet peeves, as the case may be).
Eight. Don’t be a nuisance in the lift lines. This is not Europe, where resorts seemingly promote “cattle call” scrums to get to the lifts. Long lift lines are annoying enough. Don’t exacerbate the situation by trying to cut the lines. The few seconds saved aren’t worth it. Likewise, take care not to run over the top of other people’s skis and boards.
Nine. Respect novices, and ski school groups. Not everyone might be as comfortable on the trail as you are. But everyone was a beginner once. Blasting past a group of newcomers is not only juvenile (and sometimes dangerous), it can also ruin the experience for someone just starting out in the sport. Plus, it ensures that everyone recognizes you as a self-absorbed, egotistical jerk. Don’t be that person. Give these groups a wide berth.
Ten. The gondola is not your’s. If you’re on a gondola with anyone you don’t know, don’t light up a cigarette, don’t pull out that beer, and don’t use foul language. Likewise, don’t toss litter from any lift. Stuff it in a pocket, and dispose of it later. And, finally, be nice to lift operators. These folks work long hours for low pay. A kind word can really make their day. And it won’t cost you a dime.
Photo: Courtesy of Unnofficalnetworks.