In June, I received this email:
I am looking for a definition for what constitutes a “wide berth” around other skiers, particularly beginners. I am searching because of a video circulating on YouTube in which father strikes a snowboarder who was uphill and came too close to him and his kids. The snowboarders were angry. The father kept shouting about the skier responsibility code, but there is no clearly defined rule about what constitutes being too close.
There should be. If you pass by anyone and you are within one arm’s length, I think you are too close. The snowboarders were upset because the father reached out, pushed and knocked down the snowboarder. The boarder did not have control if he was knocked off-balance by the push, plus he descended from uphill upon the skier, plus he was within arm’s length. If you can be pushed over and knocked down by someone you are trying to pass you are too close. Just my opinion, but not a rule.
Western Slope Rider
Such a good question, thanks for asking. What is a wide-berth? Could it be that one person’s “wide-berth” is another person’s “near miss”? I’ve watched the video and from it, I learned three things: 1) Parents sometimes overreact; 2) The dad’s behavior was worse than the behavior of the snowboarders he confronted; and 3) nothing was resolved, but thanks to GoPro, a lot of people now get to see this dad in a very embarrassing situation.
To actually answer your question, I turned to some experts: Adam Borg, assistant ski patrol director at Beaver Creek, Colorado and Kim Kircher, ski patrol at Crystal Mountain, Washington and author of The Next 15 Minutes.
What Is A Wide Berth?
Kim and Adam are in agreement on the definition of “wide berth.” As Kim puts it, there are two components: 1) maintaining a safe stopping (or averting) distance and 2) maintaining a comfortable distance from other skiers and riders. Both of these components are subjective.
With regard to a safe stopping/averting distance, this means that you need enough room between riders so that each can take evasive action and avoid a collision (without unknowingly colliding into anyone else). With regard to maintaining a comfortable distance from other skiers and boarders, this depends upon each rider’s ability. Or, as Kim states, “Two expert skiers may be more comfortable skiing more close together. A beginner can easily feel intimidated when another skier/rider is nearby.”
Adam brings up another crucial, but sticky, point: common sense. “On more crowded trails or runs that merge, common sense would dictate traveling at a slower speed and while there may be congestion around, spread out and allow families, ski school classes or those who need to or appear to be traveling together, to stay together and let them go by,” he recommends.
Adam also raises an important part of Your Responsibility Code: the downhill skier has the right-of-way. While wide berth is not clearly defined and depends upon personal interpretation, right-of-way of the downhill skier is non-negotiable. This means everyone needs to look ahead and anticipate where the rider in front of them may go (and remember that children and beginners are notoriously erratic). The best way to do this in a crowded area? Slow down.
What Can Ski Patrol Do?
My next question to Adam was how does ski patrol handle guests who are not giving a wide berth? “Circumstances dictate every situation,” he answered. “But for those individuals who elect to ski or ride in what is believed to be an unsafe manner where others around them are put at risk, the Mountain Safety Team and ski patrol will stop the person and has the ability to revoke skiing privileges.” In addition, Beaver Creek can require the skier or boarder to attend a Safety Class before they get their skiing privileges back.
No Surprise: It’s About Personal Responsibility
In the end, the most important part of staying safe, and giving one another a wide berth on the slopes, comes down to personal responsibility. Ski within your ability, maintain control and abide by Your Responsibility Code. Think about those around you, with whom you’re sharing the snow.
And don’t ski close enough to punch somebody.
In April 2012, Beaver Creek was recognized by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) for having the Best Overall Safety Program in the industry. This is Beaver Creek’s ninth NSAA safety award. Along with the other Vail Resorts, Beaver Creek’s safety program falls under the theme of “Play It Safe, Play All Season” and guests see this message, and other safety reminders, in high traffic areas.
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