With 27 ski and snowboard resorts across the state, tons of powder and longer ski seasons, Colorado is without a doubt a top-notch destination for skiers and snowboarders. Not only do people move to Colorado for no other reason than to take advantage of the inundation of ski culture and sport, there are gobs of tourists who visit for ski vacations that may only last a few days or weeks. Skiing and snowboarding should be outrageously fun— but some of the joy is lost and risks are elevated when assholes act like assholes on the mountain.
The National Ski Areas Association developed a list of seven rules— the Responsibility Code— that are posted at nearly every ski resort in Colorado, printed on every ticket or season pass and reiterated in lift lines to help provide an enjoyable shared experience for everyone on the mountain. These were adopted around the same time that Colorado passed the Ski Safety Act in 1979, mostly to protect smaller resorts from extensive lawsuits carried out by people who may have been acting like an asshole rather than taking the time to learn the etiquette of skiing and snowboarding. It’s hard to know if anyone traveling to a ski area for the first time bothers to read these rules or guidelines, even though it’s clear they should. By knowing and understanding the etiquette of a ski mountain, vacationers and locals alike can have better, safer days while still having that childlike excitement. And longtime skiers aren’t off the hook— it’s always a good idea to remind yourself how to behave so you don’t become that asshole people talk about over a beer at the end of the day.
It’s best to know what you’re getting yourself into and to realize that having fun should not happen at someone else’s expense. Read on for our tips on being the best skier (or snowboarder) you can be without ruining someone else’s powder day.
Please note that these guidelines are aimed at users of ski resorts and not backcountry skiing (which has an entirely different set of safety requirements and suggestions.)
Make Sure You Can Always Stop
Holding the number one spot in the Responsibility Code is: always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid other objects or people. Personal control over your actions, your reactions and your equipment is key to being safe on the slopes. South Park famously has an episode where the boys get a ski lesson from “Thumper” who tells them to pizza and french fry. This is an elementary way to explain basic skier control, but it’s elemental. Learning how to slow down and stop is more important than learning how to gain speed. For snowboarders, “pizza” and “french fry” doesn’t apply, but learning how to slide, sit, and fall softly are all good options.
Don’t Ski Above Your Ability
Know the limits to your abilities. Trying a black diamond run when you are not in shape or inexperienced, for instance, could honestly become a death wish. Courses are graded by color— green, blue, black— based on the steepness of their slope. Black runs may not have moguls or difficult tree terrain, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. Steep slopes require leg strength to be able to stop and maintain control over your skis or snowboard, and runaway equipment and people can pose serious risks to others. Don’t let your ego get the best of you, stay on courses that you are confident you can do. If you find yourself on a run that is above your experience level, ask someone nearby for advice or an easier way down.
Don’t Ski Closed-Off Terrain
Skiing at a resort requires caution when it comes to staying within the designated boundaries. Riley McDonough, the supervisor for Ski Patrol at Winter Park Resort who has been a Ski Patroller for 16 years, commented “although all of the rumors of [Ski Patrol] keeping terrain closed is to hoard it for ourselves, we do it because it’s actually unsafe. And this year especially we are trying to open up everything as it becomes available on the basis of safety. We don’t want the public to get hurt and we don’t want to risk our life and limb to pull someone out of an area they weren’t supposed to be in. It’s not only their own safety they’re risking, it’s ours too.” Ducking beneath roped off areas is not only against the terms of your ticket, it can be extremely dangerous. Backcountry skiing is a different beast and if you are interested in going out of bounds, make sure you undertake the proper training and find the proper locations to do so.
Ski resorts are generally pretty expansive spaces, with miles of terrain, people of all abilities going in different directions, and on weekends we all know how crowded resorts can become. One of the first creeds of asshole skiers/snowboarders is being aggressively unaware of their surroundings and showing serious disrespect. Some factors that can contribute to this are: listening to headphones with music so loud you can’t hear anything outside of them, racing through family or kid ski zones, going through the terrain park like it is a hallway, disregarding merge and yield signs, or resting in dangerous locations. One of the worst ways to be unaware like this is to cause someone else to crash and not stop to help them. Even if you don’t cause the crash, seeing an accident should elicit a response from you— are they injured? Do they need Ski Patrol? Can you help them in any other way?
James Donald, a ski technician at Venture Sports Inc., in Vail commented, “ask yourself, in the past eight hours on the mountain has anyone given you the middle finger, have you had any lift line altercations, did you lose your girlfriend, or did Ski Patrol reprimand you?” If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are either an asshole or you need to be reminded that other people exist and your actions often cause them distress.
Pack in, Pack Out
Much like hiking (for our tips on not hiking like an asshole, read here) ski resorts are outdoor havens that require respect in order to be sustainable for the future. Pack it in, pack it out. Littering (and that includes leaving trash beneath lift seats) is one of the biggest asshole moves to make as a skier or boarder. Each spring, staff and volunteers at ski resorts spend days picking up bags of trash— especially beneath lifts. Put your tissues, candy wrappers, beer cans, roaches, cigarette butts and any other piece of rubbish in your pocket to throw away in a designated spot.
Make A Plan
Unless you’re clocking over 100 days on a single mountain, you probably don’t know the resort as well as you think you do. This means you should continue to familiarize yourself with the runs, as well as the other amenities you might need or want. Taking into account that some areas within resorts may not have cell phone reception, it’s also a good idea to carry a hard copy of a map. Skiing, even at a private ski resort, is still an outdoors activity that requires some basic knowledge to navigate. Weather should always be on your mind when planning a ski outing, and dressing in layers is the best course of action because it allows you to adapt.
Newbies should be extra aware of the necessity to make a plan with their fellow adventurers, especially with a designated meeting location in case they are separated. Never be afraid to ask someone who works or doesn’t work at the resort for directions. Use time on the lift between runs to decide where to go and how to get there. Taking routes less traveled— like tree runs and chutes— requires, even more, vigilance in planning, and some groups will employ call and respond noises to use while skiing together in these locations. Solo skiers are in more danger in these less traveled areas, and it would be wise as a solo skier to let someone know the general area you plan on exploring. It may seem exhaustive to take these precautions, but ski resorts in Colorado have been seeing a disturbing amount of mortal accidents in the last few years for some of these reasons. Before heading out on the slopes, save the Ski Patrol’s number in your phone for easy access in times of duress.
Know Your Gear
Knowing your gear does not require owning it. Renting gear is a necessity for many skiers and boarders, but what is often lost in the renting of gear is the idea that we should understand how to use it properly. The best way to learn the general concepts behind ski and board equipment is to “take a lesson from a trained professional” as Susan Malley, a level 3 certified ski instructor stated. Without some direction, many of us will overlook how to properly use the tools of the trade.
Watch the X-Games or the Olympic winter sports and you’ll notice part of the athlete’s finesse comes from being completely familiar with his or her gear. It looks like an extension of them, rather than a gawky accessory. We all can’t hope to look as graceful as Lindsay Vonn, but we can set our sights on being as comfortable as possible while carrying our gear, putting it on and taking it off, adjusting it and handling it around other people. No one wants to get knocked out with a stray ski or board because it’s being sloppily carried or improperly fastened.
Know How to Ride the Lift
Aside from dangerous terrain, the machines at ski resorts, like the lifts, t-bars and rope pulleys can be very dangerous if not used properly. Part of the Responsibility Code states that “prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.” If it is your first time at a ski resort go to a beginners-only area to learn this skill, where dedicated professionals are patient, kind and dispense advice. The regular lift lines are not the place to learn this and if you are unprepared you will most likely create a delay for everyone already on the lift and everyone in line behind you.
Not understanding how to sit safely on the ski lift could result in something as little as losing a piece of equipment or something as serious as injury or death. Not every lift— especially in difficult terrain— has a safety bar. Factors like high wind or the lift stopping and starting again can throw a rider off balance if they are not comfortable and knowledgeable with riding it. Often, lifts are shared between strangers, so it’s also respectful to keep in mind that riders of varying abilities or sensibilities might be in your presence.
Learn to Merge
Part of skiing at a resort is dealing with the lift line. Much like a traffic jam, lift lines are places where anger and frustration can get the best of people. Aside from general courtesy, the number one rule is to learn to merge—if there are multiple lines, each line allows one group at a time. Everyone wants a seat on the same lift, and everyone can have one in an orderly and timely fashion if everyone plays by the rules. McDonough expressed resentment with this aspect especially, stating “all these people come up from cities and sit in traffic all the time, it seems like they should understand the basics of merging.” It should go without saying, but cutting in line is worse than not merging properly.
There are three rules in the Responsibility Code that focus on merging while skiing or snowboarding: 1) people ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them. 2) you must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above. 3) whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others. It seems simple but the truth is that staying aware on the mountain takes a high level of observation, and when you are lacking, others around you are forced to work double to make up for it. Respecting the mountain and the other people enjoying the mountain are essential. Nobody likes a freeloader.
Mind the Kids
Another guideline for sharing the slopes respectfully is remembering that it is a family friendly area. Yes there are bars on the hill and in the resorts, yes it is Colorado and weed is legal (though not legal to smoke at the resorts), but it is not a good idea to drink heavily and smoke blatantly in front of vacationers with kids in tow. Belligerence is one of those qualities that is unbecoming on anyone, but especially on people who could kill themselves, someone else, or someone else’s children if they lose control on the mountain.
Skiing and snowboarding are adventurous, high-risk sports. They require vigilance, caution, politeness and an ability to temper your ego. It does not prove anything to anyone if you are outside your comfort zone to the point of being dangerous. Take the time to learn how to use the equipment and where to go in case of an emergency. Respect the mountain. Keeping all of these things in mind will set you on the right path to not pissing off the locals (which is at the very least a nice thing to do), and to enjoying your day on the slopes even more.