Big crowds, big mountains… better off in the backcountry |

Big crowds, big mountains… better off in the backcountry

People develop a fear of crowds for good reason.

Unfortunately for locals, holiday weekends are often the only times friends and family are in town, so we sometimes find ourselves joining the swarms on the slopes (even if we’d otherwise avoid them like the plague).

The thing is, it doesn’t matter how many swarms are out there to some people. There are individuals packed into a lift line or onto a slope with hundreds of other people who are oblivious to the fact that they are surrounded by hundreds of other people. And, in their oblivion, such individuals don’t realize how these hundreds of other people might suffer from their bad decisions.

It was a weighty crowd last weekend when three of us got onto the Super Bee lift at Copper Mountain and were joined by one woman from out of town. The chair had barely left the terminal when the woman, without announcement or any sort of warning, yanked the safety bar down and slammed my friend – who was also visiting from out of town – on the top of the head. Had my friend not been wearing a helmet, she would have either been knocked off the lift, or knocked out, or both.

The other friend on the chair – a veteran patroller taking a day off – said to the woman, “Watch the bar, would you?”

The woman barked back with – “It’s what you do, you put the bar down when you get on the lift!”

We replied with mutterings about how not everyone puts the bar down, and about the need for a bit of warning. We all spent the next couple seconds in tense silence until the woman, who oddly seemed more put out than the rest of us, said, “So, visitors aren’t allowed?”

None of us knew how to respond to that. We found ourselves living out the awkward, pre-subscribed role of country mouse versus city mouse, local versus visitor.

I suddenly felt very sorry about my role as the snotty local. But, on the other hand, I wasn’t the one to initiate disrespect. And, I hoped our transaction with this woman might make her think twice before hopping onto another lift with strangers – locals or other visitors – and clocking one of them unannounced with the safety bar again.

But the danger didn’t end there.

Sunday, after many of the crowds had left, there was the guy who blazed out of control through the fence in the “slow” ski area, flying off the speed bump between the gates as if it was put there for him to catch air off of. It’s probably not fair to judge, but I guessed he was from out of town because, well, he didn’t ski very well, and I’d like to think that people who frequent the mountain have at least glanced at the skier responsibility code once or twice.

Then again, the responsibility code, which lines lift towers and trail maps, isn’t going to provide a “heads up” to people with tunnel vision.

It would have been easy to hand the woman on the lift a copy of the code highlighting the section about “know how to use the lifts safely,” or point out the parts about how you should “stay in control,” and “observe signs and warnings,” to the guy blazing through the slow area.

But anywhere there is a speed limit, someone is going to speed, and anywhere there is any set of rules, someone is going to break them. And in any crowd of mostly observant individuals, there are still going to be a few with their own, self-serving tunnel vision.

That’s why the dangerous formula of big crowds and big mountains is best avoided, and why I’m lucky to walk away from a holiday weekend on the slopes with nothing more than a chip on my shoulder. Come the next holiday weekend, I’m going to heed the wisdom of my agoraphobia and take my friends and family into the backcountry.

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