Go find winter - safely

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2001

Today's re-opening of Eaglecrest renews the sense of season that has been stunted by the mysterious nonappearance of winter. Never before had the ski area lost both December and January to lack of snow. Along the channel, downtown, in Douglas, around the valley and out the road we remain relatively snowless. But Eaglecrest's determination to give it a try, at least on the upper slopes, suggests we yet may experience more appropriate wintry conditions where we live.

For most people who remain in Juneau, winter is welcome and can be exhilarating. If we did not like winter we could live somewhere else - or flee south for a few months. The absence of winter's footprints leaves us off-balance. You don't have to be a skier to feel a little relief, maybe even some optimism, today.

The ski area could have called the whole thing off before now. Life would have gone on, albeit in an altered state. For Eaglecrest, a missed season could mean financial disaster. Isn't the economy turning soft enough already? For the rest of us, cancellation of the ski season might have fueled a malaise not to be shaken until the return of the cruise ships in a few months.

So, nevermind that conditions on the mountain aren't perfect. There is a way to reach the upper slopes where the snow is seven feet deep. Let's get on with it.

That said, a word of caution to those desperate for the adrenaline rush that only downhill skiing can provide. On Wednesday, a Denver judge imposed a 90-day jail sentence and other penalties on a 21-year-old skier who plowed over another man on the slopes of Vail four years ago.

Nathan Hall's downhill trip turned fatal when he steamrolled Alan Cobb, 33. Hall was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. He faced up to six years in prison until the judge announced "it is clear to everyone that Nathan isn't a bad human being. That he is in fact a caring and compassionate and sensitive young man" who deserved a second chance.

"I stand before you guys knowing I've taken a human life, a life obviously very special and valued by a lot of people," Hall told the courtroom audience, which included the victim's mother and fianc. "I in no way feel I've suffered even a small fraction of what I've put you guys through. Now that I've had a chance to explain my feelings and express my apologies I feel like I can finally start a new beginning with my life."

The fact that Hall is, in the judge's opinion, caring, compassionate and sensitive, did not prevent him from behaving recklessly in 1997 or going through a four-year ordeal in the courts or facing a lifetime of guilt. In the end, a judge dispensed mercy.

May the events of 1997 and yesterday remind us all of the need to behave responsibly and, when warranted, to be merciful.

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