Toboggan Rides: the Unholy Grail of Ski Season

Max Geise, Contributor

With the majority of resorts opening up for the season, the number of people on the ski hill is going to start increasing in the next few months. An estimated 12.6 million were on the slopes last season, so it’s bound to get crowded again. With that many people on the mountain, accidents are bound to happen.

Coming from a ski patroller, I can honestly say that there are some pretty serious injuries on the mountain. From broken bones to dislocated shoulders, an untimely injury can ruin the fun for that day and sometimes, the entire season. So here are a couple tips and tricks to to avoid earning a ride down the hill in a Ski Patrol toboggan:

Tip Number 1: Don’t be an idiot.

This one might be common sense, but there are a surprising number of people that act like the dreaded Texan while on the hill. The best way to not be an idiot is to know your limits. By far, the most calls that Patrol gets is from beginner skiers that get stuck where they don’t belong. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge yourself as a skier, it just means that if it’s your second day ever on the slopes, you probably shouldn’t be skiing that double black.

Another good way to stay unscathed is to make smart choices. Racing your buddies down the mountain is a good way to get your pass yanked, and anybody attempting to play football while skiing (yes, it has happened) is just asking for an injury. It seems that the cold temperatures on the mountain freeze people’s brains because what we call common sense is not so common. Using your head is one of the smartest ways to keep safe.

Tip Number 2: Spend money on good equipment.

This may be another given, but the number of people on the slopes wearing jeans and a sweatshirt is ridiculous. Any Boy Scout will know the adage “cotton kills,” and that doesn’t apply to just camping. Big news: you will get wet skiing, especially if you have a propensity for falling down (*cough cough* you in the cowboy hat). In 30 degree weather, that soaked pair of blue jeans gets cold pretty darn quick. And if you don’t think hypothermia in the winter is a real thing, then you’ve got a big surprise coming. All of this can be avoided by simply spending a little more money (maybe not, if you’re a fan of designer jeans) and buying even the cheapest pair of snow pants.

A suggestion to avoid ending up like Olaf from Frozen (except with your own pole): get some proper rental gear. Most rental shops will give you a good quality pair of basic equipment for under 50 bucks, yet the amount of people I see that use old equipment from eBay, garage sales, or grandpappy’s attic is astronomical. A correct-fitting pair of boots will make your break your day on the hill, so make sure they fit well. Be smart about your equipment, and it will save you some foot pain.

Tip Number 3: Don’t cut lines.

This goes for any rope that appears on the mountain, from lift line to out-of-bounds marker. Trust me, the areas that are closed are closed for a very good reason. That extra couple of inches of powder may look tempting, but you never know what you might find hiding underneath the snow. It’s also not worth jeopardizing your pass for. Yes, Ski Patrol can confiscate your ski pass and make you take a safety class or find another alternative for getting it back.

Another thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that avalanches are a real danger, especially for those who ski bigger terrain. And while all of the Colorado resorts’ mitigation crews have been thoroughly seasoned, they can still occur. The best way to avoid any unnecessary dangers to yourself is to simply just stay on the open terrain. This is a big one, especially during the later part of the ski season.

Tip Number 4: Stay out of the park.

Staying out of the park could be called an addendum to tip number 1. There’s a reason that collections of freestyle terrain have been labeled as “thoracic park.” By far, ski patrollers all over the state pull the most back and spinal injuries out of the park. It is one of the most dangerous places on the mountain, mostly because the majority of those in the park have never been trained on how to do park “safely.” Even Olympians, who have spent years upon years training in the park have their crashes (See example: Jessika Jansen sliding on her face )

If you absolutely feel the need to go into the park, at least get a lesson from a pro first. Heed tip number 4 and you won’t end up with a face full of snow (due to the park, anyway).

Tip Number 5: Have Fun.

Skiing is one of the most dangerous winter activities, simply because it is an action sport and a number of things can go wrong. But it is also one of the most fun. The amount of smiles that I see on the hill greatly outnumbers the amount of injuries, indicating that people must be doing it right. Any serious powder hound will tell you that even the crummiest day on the hill is better than the best day anywhere else. And as Coloradans, we have it pretty good. Our back yard is arguably the best skiing in the nation, with thousands flocking towards the deep pow and REAL mountains (I’m looking at you, Vermont). So have fun, stay safe, and maybe I’ll see you on the hill some day. Hopefully under a beneficial set of circumstances.