Top tips and advice for American skiing
Every season, Breckenridge is happy to welcome skiers and riders from around the globe. Pacific Rim, South and Central America, the UK, Continental Europe… Ride the lift on the right day it’ll feel like a veritable UN mixer.
For the born-and-bred American skier, much of what happens on the slopes seems innate. Our international visitors, on the other hand, may be taken by surprise. Here are some things to know about down-hilling in the Land of the Free:
The skier / rider responsibility code
Maybe the biggest cultural shock for the international skier is the responsibility code. While some countries have a free-for-all mentality on the mountain, the U.S.A. values an approach that encourages courtesy and minimizes litigation. All of the Vail Resorts properties take slope safety seriously, and violations of these seven basic expectations can cost you your pass. You definitely should take time to familiarize yourself with the code here, but a couple of important highlights:
1. The downhill skier has the right-of-way. Always. If you are involved in a collision with another guest and you are the uphill party, it’s not just a breach of protocol. Per the Colorado Ski Safety Act of 1979, you can be held legally and financially liable for any injuries the downhill skier may incur. Unless you have diplomatic immunity, make sure you’re giving plenty of space, especially on the lower part of the mountain where beginners may be moving erratically.
Rope closures are taken very seriously. In Europe, ropes may suggest that an area is unfavorable. Over here, they mark the limit of skiable terrain. Venturing under, over, or around a flagged rope means you are entering terrain that is hazardous to your health and is a sure-fire way to have your pass revoked.
Breckenridge has hundreds of acres that require avalanche mitigation via explosives (you’ll hear Ski Patrol working throughout the morning), so duck a rope in the wrong place and you could be in serious danger; you will put potential rescuers at risk as well.
Backcountry gates are available if you’re interested in going beyond the resort boundaries – make sure you check with Ski Patrol to locate those access points. The resort isn’t hiding awesome terrain on the other side of the ropes – areas are closed for a reason.
Trail ratings are noted on trail signs and maps. Beginner runs are colored green, intermediate runs are blue, advanced are black, and expert runs are marked with a double black diamond. These are general guidelines, and the difficulty of runs within a category can vary. Knowing the ratings though can keep you out of the places you want to avoid (and will make some of the t-shirts in town funnier). When in doubt, ask an employee for some advice.
Snow conditions and grooming
Legend has it that the Eskimos have dozens of words for “snow.” True or not, there are definitely differences in types of snow that you’ll encounter depending on where and when you ski. East Coast skiing is different from West Coast skiing, and both are different from Colorado.
In Colorado, the coveted powder is awesome to play in, but you’ll need to make sure you have the right skis to negotiate it – check with the rental shop to see what they recommend. Snow gets wetter and heavier starting in mid-March, and conditions can change throughout the day. Make sure you take the time to get a feel for things before charging hard.
Grooming can also make a huge difference. (That’s trail grooming, not personal grooming. You’ll see pretty quickly that the latter is sometimes allowed to slide, which may make some guests feel more at home.) SnowCat operators work through the night to clean up the lower part of the mountain so conditions are optimal the next morning. If you’re more comfortable just cruising and making predictable turns, you may find more terrain to choose from than you’re used to.
Visit at certain times of the year and you’ll encounter lift lines – especially in the base areas. They move pretty quickly, so don’t go charging in like you’re invading Russia. Be calm and wait your turn. As the lines merge, be sure to alternate. Chat to the friendly folks around you, and let the lifties call you out to the lift. To minimize your line waits, plan your runs to end at a mid-mountain lift instead of returning to the bottom every time.
There are other differences, of course. We drive on the right-hand side of the road. It’s called a “quarter pounder,” not a “Royale with cheese.” And speaking of pounds, don’t ask for anything in metric units unless you want a blank look – we tried that in the 70’s, it didn’t take. Don’t try taxing our tea, stamps, or sugar while you’re here. Do forgive our generally poor understanding of geography. And history. And other languages.
We welcome your huddled masses yearning to ski. World-class skiing is just an airplane ride away – hope to see you soon!
– Brad Stewart