Downhill skiing and snowboarding are undoubtedly some of the most privileged sports in the world. Apart from polo, car racing or golf, few other activities are characterized by their wealthy participants as much as skiing. In rural mountain towns with little racial diversity and income disparity, the ongoing civil rights movement feels distant. However with all the turmoil and bigger picture issues ongoing in the world currently, as a die-hard skier that is my easiest lens to view the world through.
It started with a simple thought:
“We need more ski patrollers and less yellow jackets”
Vail Resorts in particular have become infamous for their Mountain Safety department otherwise known as “Yellow Jackets”. The goal of the mountain safety program is to patrol slow or beginning ski areas and essentially torment anyone who doesn’t meet those expectations. Yellow jackets are a group of power hungry, largely incompotent and minorly trained wannabe ski patrollers to put it lightly.
The problem with Mountain Safety regardless of their intentions, is the job creates an incentive to find and punish reckless riders instead of responding to real emergencies. Not too different from law enforcement who deliver speeding tickets or hassle kids for skateboarding when criminals and serious crime run rampant.
Yellow jackets seek out confrontation, they have quotas for guest interaction and even on the slowest of business days they need to find “reckless riders” to punish. Worse yet the Yellow Jackets aren’t trained for sophisticated medical response like a ski patroller and essentially offer a radio call to more trained professionals in serious incidents.
Imagine your cruising down ‘Schoolmarm’ at Keystone Resort, a long meandering Green groomer, the corduroy is ripping and not a soul is in sight. You come over a roller on your snowboard and a yellow jacket quickly peels out to intercept you for ‘going too fast’. You bemoan being hassled as a skier in a Helly Hansen kit and DPS directional skis carries vastly more speed through the exact same spot. This is the problem with the police as much as mountain safety personnel; bias and profiling are commonly exercised in executing the job.
Where is the consistency in harassing advanced riders in mellow terrain but not telling beginners they are over their heads in more advanced terrain? Ask anyone who lives in a tougher neighborhood how police response compares in there area to the suburbs.
So why do we need ski patrollers?
Ski patrollers foster the confidence in resort patrons to explore the mountain without fear of injury, avalanches or other catastrophe.
A ski patroller can still pull your season pass for being a jerk or tell you to tone down your speed but that is not their sole responsibility or goal. Unlike becoming a mountain safety ‘professional’, the education to become a patroller is vastly more involved.
Hell ski patrollers don’t even get paid well. The word passion is often tossed around by those who spend years learning medical skills to make low wages and work hard for us to play on the slopes.
The work performed by ski patrol to mitigate avalanches and provide emergency medical care is the defining line between being inbounds at the ski area and the wildness of the backcountry.
At the end of the day our lift ticket and season passes help fund both ski patrol and mountain safety departments. I’m all in for paying the guy who can save my life, not the overzealous johnny law character.