Summit County longboarding debate picks up speed (column)
On July 31, I wrote and printed two articles about longboarding in Summit County. One was an introduction to the sport, including details on where and how to ride for longboarders of all levels. The other was a feature on downhill longboarding, a very fascinating and very underground (as in, non-sanctioned) sport with a small, passionate group of followers based in the Rocky Mountains. We then printed a front-cover photo of longboarders dressed in motorcycle leathers bombing the west side of Vail Pass (I even used that term “bomb” more than once in both articles).
Little did I know the feature article would inspire a week’s worth of healthy debate in our “Letters to the Editor” section. The photos and article represent a very small cross-section of longboarding culture; but, when given front-page exposure, that distinction is never made clear, just as an image of Bobby Brown throwing a corked 1080 at Dew Tour isn’t representative of all skiers.
Still, the feature article stirred up controversy, and one letter in particular required a written response from me. In it, Alton Penz of Frisco began by writing: “I was dismayed at the one-sidedness of your article about longboarders. Your editorial position, and views of your writer, are to celebrate taking extreme personal risks, embracing lawlessness and disregarding the personal safety of others. I strongly disagree with this philosophy.”
Penz wasn’t alone in his position — several other readers wrote to say the article was irresponsible. After reading them through, I saw three major concerns with my coverage of downhill longboarding:
1. Is it reckless to cruise 60-plus miles per hour on a public recpath? When the recpath has a speed limit of 25 miles per hour like Vail Pass, it’s not just reckless — it’s against the law. That said, when writing the article, I wasn’t aware of a speed limit. There is no signage. My thanks to Penz for supplying Summit County’s recpath rules (Resolution No. 2004-43, May 10, 2004, Summit County Commission); although, the Summit sheriff’s office confirmed that the Eagle County side of Vail Pass is overseen by the town of Vail, not Summit County.
2. Did I directly address safety concerns in the downhilling feature? No. But, I purposely printed it on the same day as the intro to longboarding article, which includes safety tips and braking techniques before discussing where to ride in Summit. The safety section came at the request of a longboarder and Copper snowboard instructor, Giri Watts, who admits that downhill longboarding often gets a bad rap because of a few bad eggs.
3. Is the Summit Daily the right venue for downhill longboarding? I’m not sure. It seems like publicity for an underground sport can be a double-edged sword, with tension between the perks of broader exposure and the harm of public backlash. This became the crux of Kurt Kalinna’s counterpoint letter, which said, “This reminds me of the days snowboarding started out, and many criticized and complained about what they didn’t understand.”
4. Did the feature article make an opinionated statement about the dangerous nature of downhill longboarding and, more importantly for readers, whether or not it belongs on a mixed-use route like Vail Pass? No, because I don’t think that’s the place of a sports editor.
My job, as I see it, is to highlight the hundreds and hundreds of recreational activities people enjoy in the mountains. If that includes a potentially dangerous activity, I hope to present it with honesty and journalistic objectivity. I believe the downhilling article had both: honesty about longboarding culture, objectivity about their chosen activity.
I invite readers to write me with any other concerns about sports coverage: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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