On-slopes policing: A hit or miss (literally) affair

Patrolling handing out punishment?

Patroller handing out punishment on Cupp Run?

I’m fascinated by the topic of on-slopes policing or the lack thereof. Now that I’m a parent with fragile children on the slopes, I find I want more of it at my favorite ski resort.

I’ve spent a few chairlift rides asking Snowshoe snow-patrollers how they patrol. One of them says he never revokes tickets because people pay so much money to come here. He says he prefers to give a stern lecture to reckless riders. However, last season, I watched another patroller set up a sort of sting on some fellows who were riding through the woods and then bursting out onto busy Cupp Run. I even shot a picture of him meting some sort of punishment on what I’ll call “the buffoon group” – after the famous statue called the Laoco├Ân Group – because they ended up painfully intertwined with each other.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually favor off-piste skiing, even if it’s not officially allowed by Snowshoe. Off-piste skiing helps clear some traffic off the trails, and at an Eastern resort like Snowshoe, any injuries that happen off-piste will still be well within reach of the ski patrol. January 2011 was a mecca for off-piste skiing at Snowshoe because so much natural had accumulated that the logs and rocks of the forest were well-covered.

Anyway, back to the topic of patrolling. On one recent trip down the Widowmaker slope at Snowshoe, I pointed out a reckless fellow in bright yellow pants to a patroller and indicated that he’d been skiing too fast and too close to people, including children.

“I’d have to see with my own eyes to do anything,” the patroller said.

“Well, there he is in his bright yellow pants,” I replied. “Why don’t you watch him on his next run?”

Silence.

Another time, a member of my party got run over by an errant boarder. As he slowly skied down to the Ball Hooter lift, he dabbed his bloody lip with a tissue. A Snowshoe official approached. Was he inquiring about the incident? No, he handed my relative a blue card to be handed to the lift attendant to measure the duration of the liftline. True story!

Who knows what punishments actually happen at Snowshoe?

Where I live, Charlottesville, the flagship state educational institution has just one penalty for lying, cheating, and stealing, a penalty that’s so severe – permanent expulsion – that the University of Virginia’s Honor Code gets routinely ignored. And I suspect that’s what’s happening at Snowshoe. If nobody’s bothered to come up with a lesser penalty than ticket-shredding, who’s gonna mete out such a merciless punishment?

At Wintergreen, the ski area closest to my home, I feel like I see a lot more effort from the courtesy patrol and the ski patrol to get folks to slow down at intersections, thin trails, and green-circle slopes. Before the advent of shaped skis, Wintergreen was so serious about safety that it would require a little proficiency test before allowing access to its expert-only zone, the Highlands.

What I’d like to see Snowshoe come up with is more boots-on-ground. More importantly, I’d like to see someone come up with a less-punitive system to encourage good behavior. I’ve come up with such a system that might work.

We all know that Snowshoe uses bar codes, so how about coding a warning onto each reckless skier’s ticket? It would be accompanied by a thick orange mark from a Sharpie. That way, there’s a mild form of scarlet – well, orange, anyway – public shame, but the offender gets to keep his or her ticket. And after 24 hours, the offender could walk to the Depot to get a fresh ticket that, although still secretly bar-coded as an offender, no longer carries the visible stigma like a modern day Hester Prynne.

So suppose you get pulled over once, you get oranged, but you get to keep skiing or riding. But if you get pulled twice in a day, or a third time in a season, then you lose your ticket (or your multi-day or season pass).

Has anybody tried such a thing?

Right now, Snowshoe’s slopes can be a terrifying free-for-all. This would be a way to make them safer.

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2 responses to “On-slopes policing: A hit or miss (literally) affair”

  1. Screech Owl

    Excellent idea Mr. Spencer. My husband used to love to ski at Snowshoe, and now refuses to, because, he was run over by a boarder. Maybe a safety campaign could attract us older folks back to the slopes.

  2. Shawnda Saul

    I know this is an older thread, but this is still a huge problem at Snowshoe. I was hit from behind by a young woman who hadn’t taken a turn in more than 300 feet! Witnesses said she was absolutely flying down the mountain. I had multiple broken bones in my shoulder and torn ligaments. She skied the next day- they didn’t take her lift ticket from her and sent her back out on her rental skis! Yikes!

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