Everyone is excited to hit the slopes on those first days the mountain opens, but is it safe? You might want to think twice if you have smaller kids who will be skiing with you,.
Claudia Carbone, a ski journalist from Denver will tell you to hold back. "I would never take little kids for an early season outing." Claudia was rammed from behind by a snowboarder on the slopes of Breckenridge in November, 2004. It was a crowded slope during early season. The rider who hit her took off her skis, and said he would go and get ski patrol. That was the last she saw of him. She had five fractures of her pelvis, spent two weeks in two hospitals, and nine weeks in a wheelchair. She had thousands of dollars in medical bills and had to learn how to walk again.
Younger kids wouldn't stand a chance in a situation like that, when only one run is open and it's filled with a bunch of wild yahoos who can't wait to get on the snow and show off for their buddies.
"The snow is sparse and fast; everyone is on the mountain trying out their ski legs, and needless to say, most don't have them yet," she says. "I strongly believe the resorts should limit the number of skiers/riders for early season. When you allow 100 percent of people on five percent of the terrain, it's a recipe for disaster."
Deer Valley limits their number to 6,500 per day, even though their chairlifts have the capacity to upload 47,000 skiers per hour. Deer Valley's Erin Grady says, "We do it for guest experience so there aren't the lift lines and overcrowded feeling."
She adds that it's a benefit for the kids. "I definitely feel like kids are safer with limiting it and I feel like it's safer overall. It makes the ratio of skier vs. skiable acreage greater."
Ski areas across the United States and Canada are opening throughout November and early December. Some will have great conditions; others will have limited snow and terrain. It's probably best to rethink taking your little kids who might be unsure on their skis at those resorts where there is just one long run.
Kate Coble with Keystone touts the mountain as a family resort. She says, "Every day could be a great day to bring families." She adds that the safety of Keystone's guests is their top priority. "We're committed to helping educate our guests on their responsibility on the slopes and we expect all of our guests to adhere to the Responsibility Code and the Colorado Skier Safety Act." They also have a program called Play It Safe, which promotes education and signage.
Keystone has a mountain watch team positioned on high traffic areas and in designated slow zones on the mountain to make sure people are adhering to the slow zones. Ski Patrol can stop speeders and pull their passes, depending on the severity of the infraction.
Leigh Hierholzer is next door at Arapahoe Basin, also in Summit County, Colo.. About early season, she says, "You have to be patient because the demand is high. Make sure the kids are able to handle intermediate terrain. It's definitely not a learning experience until beginner terrain is open." She also adds that the slopes are less crowded during the week than during the weekend.
Use your best judgment. Don't bring your 50-pound, five-year-old on the mountain if one run is open and it's packed with crazies trying show off and go wild. Your child is going to lose if a 20-something snowboarder slams into your child, or your kid gets landed on by a freestyler, pulling a 720 in the halfpipe. Skiing or riding should not be a contact sport.
The season is starting. Let's make it safe.