In the very special mountain community we call Eaglecrest Ski Area, everyone's most important responsibility is safety. Skiing and boarding have inherent risks, but there are some things we can do to reduce those risks. Most important is to know and abide by the Alpine Responsibility Code. This code has seven basic, common sense tenants. They are:
1. Always stay in control and be able to stop and avoid other people or objects. The "golden rule" of any ski area.
2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them. When approaching a slower or obviously less experienced rider, expect the unexpected.
3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above. If you fall in a busy area or a blind spot, get up and move to the side as quickly as you can. You don't park on a highway; don't park in a run.
4. When starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others. A skier or boarder coming down-slope may not see you in time to avoid a collision.
5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment. This includes brakes, leashes, straps and even backpacks. Make sure your snowboard or skis don't turn into cheap terrain-following missiles.
6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas. Closed areas are different than out-of-bounds areas. Closed areas are off limits for your own safety. Going into a closed area can cost you your skiing privileges.
7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely. And never jump from a chair before the off-ramp. Rapid unloading can cause a lift cable system to malfunction and, in some cases, even slip off the guides or wheels.
Observing these basic principles makes the slopes safer for everyone. Use of the terrain park has its own set of responsibilities, which are important for the safety of all park users. The National Ski Areas Association and Burton Snowboards have developed the "Smart Style" Freestyle Terrain Safety initiative, which includes the following key points:
Look Before You Leap
Before going into freestyle terrain, observe all signage and warnings.
Scope around the jumps first, not over them.
Use your first run as a warm-up run and to familiarize yourself with the terrain.
Be aware that the features change constantly due to weather, usage, grooming and time of day.
Do not jump blindly and use a spotter when necessary.
Easy Style It
Know your limits and ski/ride within your ability level.
Look for small progression parks or features to begin with and work your way up.
Freestyle skills require maintaining control on the ground and in the air.
Do not attempt any features unless you have sufficient ability and experience to do so safely.
Inverted aerials increase risk of serious injury and are prohibited at Eaglecrest.
Respect Gets Respect
Respect the terrain and others.
One person on a feature at a time.
Wait your turn and call your start.
Always clear the landing area quickly.
Respect all signs and stay off closed terrain and features.
In addition to knowing and following these basic responsibilities, there are other things we can do increase our own safety and the safety of young skiers and boarders. Research has shown that the use of a helmet reduces the incidence of any head injury by 30 to 50 percent. The good news is, according to national statistics, more people are wearing helmets than ever before. Overall usage of helmets among skiers and snowboarders is now estimated at about 40 percent. It is highest among children ages 9 and under (64 percent) and lowest among the group most likely to take risks, 18 to 24 year olds (26 percent).
Finally, no matter what your skill level, consider taking a lesson from a certified instructor. The more you learn about and practice your sport, the greater your skill level. With greater skill comes greater enjoyment and safety for you and others on the mountain.
Steve Handy serves on the Eaglecrest Board of Directors.