Ruth Cunningham, Crystal Mountain Pro Patroller
Here in the mitten, preaching safety on the slopes is nothing new. Michigan’s Ski Area Safety Act was passed in 1962, making it the nation’s oldest ski safety act. Skiers have been advised to be slope-wise since Crystal Mountain’s early rope tow and Poma days.
Charged with enforcing those safety standards are Crystal’s four paid weekday patrollers and six paid weekend patrollers, augmented by 50 volunteer patrollers. And for 30 years, Crystal‘s first paid patroller, Ruth Cunningham, has been out on the snow helping to keep our slopes safe.
Her observations? There have been plenty of positive changes over the years with regards to slope safety, according to Ruth. “Fewer ropes and fences on the sides of runs, lifts which are much more user-friendly, and skiers wearing helmets have contributed to a safer skiing environment,” she noted. “The new equipment makes it so much easier for people to ski. More people are skiing longer, and we’re seeing huge groups of 80+ age skiers on the slopes, plus children who are starting very young. And since the arrival of power tillers, the grooming has been wonderful”.
When injuries occur, the most common are injured wrists for snowboarders, and injured knees for skiers. “Not many of the snowboarders are wearing wrist guards, which would probably prevent a lot of fractures,” Ruth observed.
And the biggest rule infraction? Skiing in control, which seems to be ignored especially by males in the 16-25 age group. “We also see a lot of young children going straight down black diamond hills with no turns, skiing completely out of control”. Ruth said that patrollers talk to those skiers once they catch up to them.
Being slope-wise applies to every vertical rise, whether it’s Crystal’s 375 feet or the mountains out West. A recent editorial in the Steamboat Pilot, the daily paper in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, addressed the Slopewise Code of Conduct:
“It goes without saying, that a fundamental requirement of the code is that all skiers and riders must stay in control and be able to avoid other people and objects on the slopes. We’ve observed that the newest equipment, which has made acquiring intermediate skills easier to do, can also inspire a false sense of accomplishment among some skiers and riders.
“It isn’t our role to sell ski school lessons. But it’s true that the professional ski instructors….can help people learn to ski and ride with much more control at reasonable speeds. Just as it’s true that you will become a more accomplished golfer or tennis player by working with a pro, you will become a more accomplished skier, with the skills to ski more precisely at speed, if you know how to carve a turn. You’ll also get more enjoyment out of the sport when you achieve the next level.
“Another fundamental aspect of the SlopeWise Code calls upon skiers and riders to yield the right of way to downhill skiers; if you are approaching from behind, it’s incumbent on you to slow down enough to avoid others before a collision results. But those skiers below you also have responsibilities. It is unsafe to stop on a ski slope where terrain obscures you from the view of those approaching from above………when you have come to a stop to rest and re-focus, always look above you for oncoming skiers before resuming skiing. Unexpected stops and starts can make it more difficult even for well-intentioned and skilled skiers to avoid a collision.
“If you want to ski more like an Olympian, wear your helmet, acquire new skills and continue to ski under control.”