Expert offers time-proven tips to help skiers, riders stay safe on the slopes
How to stay one step ahead of meltdowns
After 30 years working at Steamboat Resort including 20 years on ski patrol, Duncan Draper has seen his share of lost equipment, misplaced children and “barefoot,” a nickname for tired skiers who take off their skis and walk down a run.
Yet, one of the best lessons he learned for families to stay safe and ski smart comes from his experience with his own children.
He and his wife were skiing with their sons, then ages 7 and 9, when they wanted to take a fun side excursion through the trees. Draper was leading the way, while his wife was in the rear, until she decided to stay on the main run. When Draper got back to the main run out of the trees, there was no sign of his kids coming behind. He pushed down the panic, took off his skis and climbed back up hill to find his boys.
As a result, two of his top tips include having adults ski as bookends to young skiers and having the strongest skier stay in the back of any group to function as “tail-gunner.”
When skiers or riders who are stronger or more elevation-acclimated take friends on the slopes, the group leader should stay in the back to make sure no one is struggling to keep up or getting too tired, which could lead to injuries.
“Make sure to have one back and one front, keep good visual proximity and stop as needed to make sure you are not getting too far ahead,” Draper said.
Jon Feiges, ski patrol assistant director, reminds that skiers who become too exhausted can ride down on the two gondolas at the resort. Some other ski lifts are available for download too but only in emergencies with ski patrol direction, Draper said.
Joanne Orce, a trainer and coach who has taught sold-out Ski Fitness classes at Old Town Hot Springs for three years, said this year’s deep snow is challenging different muscles for skiers, especially with hip flexor strains from pushing through deep powder. She encourages skiers to keep up their fitness mid-week including cross training, cardio and balance exercises.
As a coach of triathletes and a mom to three kids, Orce also stressed the importance of nutrition, such as eating a good breakfast and carrying snacks like nutrition bars, peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, or sports gels or gummies.
Visitors from lower elevations might consider skiing a partial day on their first day, Orce said, adding that proper rest, hydration and nutrition for recovery after skiing are all important.
Draper offered advice on the three issues patrol sees most — lost children, barefoot skiers or riders, and lost equipment. Children should be at least 10 to 12 years old before they start to ski alone, and they should have a cell phone or the numbers of two parents or guardians memorized or written down in their pockets. The age to ski alone depends more on knowledge and accountability to ski area rules, safety and signage rather than skiing ability alone, he said.
Skiers and riders should understand that closures, ropes, hazard markings, slow zones and no jumping signs are based on patrol knowledge of existing hazards or history of dangers in those specific areas.
“All of the marking and signs on the mountain have meaning, and we don’t haphazardly put them up just to inconvenience people. Like the no jumping sign shows a history of injuries or wrecks, or we know it’s blind air,” Draper said.
Instead of taking off skis and walking down a run, which creates a hazard for others, exhausted skiers can call ski patrol for a range of assistance depending on the circumstances.
“We deal with more of those than we do wrecks in a normal day,” Draper said. “It can be from weather, or conditions, but they usually tend to be newer to the sport and are just physically beat.”
For lost equipment, ski patrol staff at the ground level of Thunderhead Lodge keep a stock of extra poles, gloves and hats to loan out when needed.
Skiers or riders should protect their physical readiness, ski smart and admit when they need help or to stop for the day.
Orce said parents can stay one step ahead of meltdowns by kids by skiing on appropriate level terrain, making sure equipment is always in order, carrying a water bottle and dressing in removable layers.
“We see a lot of meltdowns on the mountain for sure,” Draper said. “If you are tired and trying to perform at a level that your body just can’t, something is going to give somewhere. Sometimes it’s better to go ahead and take a break and stay on your game.”
– Stay hydrated with water or non-alcoholic beverages. Anytime someone in your party takes a bathroom break, everyone should consider drinking water or an electrolyte drink.
– The time to go inside for a drink or snack break is when a skier first becomes tired, before becoming physically exhausted or very chilled.
– Skiing tipsy or high impairs physical reaction times, and alcohol can have stronger effects at higher elevations. Steamboat Resort is on National Forest federal lands, so use of marijuana is prohibited on the slopes.
– When the visibility becomes poor from blowing snow and clouds, consider changing out goggle lenses, take a break, or use dark trees at the side of runs to help with visual perception.
– Always wear a properly fitting helmet, available to rent at local ski shops. The national Lids on Kids education program reports that overall helmet use on the slopes has grown from 25% in the 2002-03 season to 90% during 2021-22.
– Skier volume tends to come in waves, so if a run is too crowded for comfort, slow down or move to the side and wait for a break in traffic.
– Keep an eye on friends and especially children for frost nip, the first stage of frostbite, where exposed patches of skin are overly cold, discolored, tingly or numb.
– Age-old tips include wear sunscreen even when it is cloudy and check the temperatures in advance to dress appropriately and in layers.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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