Opinion | Tony Jones: Lowering the lift bar by default
I recall vividly the day that I decided I should be wearing a helmet while snowboarding. After decades of not doing so I started noticing more folks wearing them, but I remained reluctant to give up my favorite beanie or the feel of the wind through my hair on spring ski days. In the end it was a nearly vertical run at Eldora that changed my mind. I was skiing alone in Corona Bowl and found myself on a steep slope with trees crowded tightly around me. I could see the way out, but it was gonna take survival skiing for sure. And in between me and the slope I was eyeing as my escape were dozens of tree trunks and branches that seemed to have my name on them. That was the last session that I rode without a helmet.
I also recall when I started wearing a seatbelt in cars as a matter of course: the day the state of Colorado instituted mandatory seatbelt laws in 1987. Prior to that, I never really thought much about wearing a seatbelt. While I was certainly familiar with the dangers of car crashes, that danger didn’t seem as immediate as the peril those tight glades at Eldora posed. Nevertheless, I decided to adhere to that mandatory seatbelt law, especially since donning a seatbelt is generally a simple thing to do that, once you start, quickly becomes automatic.
The difference between these two changes in my behavior is that the latter was proscribed by law and the former wasn’t. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on those changes recently while spending much of spring break on a chairlift at Keystone. The impetus for these ponderings? The restraint bar on chairlifts.
I’ve ridden chairlifts for decades with the bar up, not giving much thought to it but not fussing if another rider wanted it down either. But lately, having the bar up (or no bar at all) and 50 feet or more of empty space between myself and the ground has started to give me the willies. I’m not sure what changed it for me. Perhaps it’s due to the periodic reminders of the importance of putting that bar down and the tragic consequences that can ensue when it’s not. Regardless, starting earlier this season, I made up my mind that I would always put the bar down. I make a point of politely asking others that are riding the lift with me if they mind if I do so and I have yet to have someone say no.
The responses that I’ve gotten when I ask to put the bar down seem to fall into one of three buckets. There’re the folks who seem grateful that I asked, as it means they don’t have to be the one asking. There’re also the folks who are quick and happy to comply but would probably have been just as happy riding with the bar up.
I find the responses from the third bucket of folks the most interesting, however. It starts with an obviously begrudging acquiescence to the request, sometimes followed by a remark that I’m the first snowboarder that they’ve heard make such a request. Another common response is nonverbal. It’s an annoyed huffing, followed by an exaggerated shifting in the seat to allow for the lowering of the bar, ensuring that I’m aware of the inconvenience I’m causing the person with my request. I do appreciate that these folks comply though, because I’m not taking no for an answer and I’m not sure what comes next if they decline.
Lawmakers and resorts could make this easier for us all by making restraint bar usage mandatory as some other states have, a la what happened with seat belt laws. But given the infrequency of injuries, I’m not sure this issue rises to that level. Helmets aren’t mandatory for skiing either, but it seems that folks better appreciate the risk and it’s pretty rare to see skiers or riders without one nowadays. So, in the vein of managing this risk without resorting to nanny-state tactics, it’s up to us riders to be more safety conscious and lower the bar. Perhaps more insistent signage from the resorts could help, as well as keeping up the peer pressure on restraint bar holdouts. If you’re riding the lift alone and want the bar up, have at it, more power to you. Feel free to leave the helmet at home too, you’re only risking your own well-being. But common civility would seem to dictate that if others on the lift with you feel safer with the bar down, you comply, without snarky comments or drama.
Tony Jones' column "Everything in Moderation" publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Jones is a veteran of the IT industry and has worked in the public and private sectors. He lives part-time in Summit County and Denver. Contact him at email@example.com.
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