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The O. Zone: Ending another great ski season with kindness over collisions

April 14, 2024, 1:09 pm

KKW carves the slush on an empty Bear Tree run at Vail recently (DOW photo).

The final week of the inbounds, lift-served ski season in the Eagle River Valley will reportedly be a snowy one, although the only option for snow riding locally will be on Vail Mountain.

Beaver Creek closes today with a final seasonal tally of 287 inches of snow (just under 24 feet and below its seasonal average), but it was still a solid, consistent ski season at the Beav’. Vail closes on Sunday, April 21, and currently has tallied 291 inches of snow so far this season.

Vail reportedly could top 300 inches – again, below the seasonal average – by closing day.

“Sunday will be the final very warm and sunny day. Monday will be somewhat warm with increasing clouds,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Sunday morning. “Then on Monday night and Tuesday, a storm will bring snow to most mountains with an average of 5-10 inches in the northern mountains and maybe 15+ inches in some spots. After that, the northern and eastern mountains could see additional snow between Thursday and Saturday.”

This past week I topped 120 days of clicking into some type of ski – Nordic, Alpine Touring (AT) and Alpine. Those days stretched between late October to mid-April, and I’m not done. My Nordic days at EagleVail may be over, but I’ll get in a few more AT and Alpine days, including closing weekend at Vail and likely a May day or two at Breckenridge.

So far I’ve skied just 22 days on my Epic Pass (Keystone, Breck, Vail, Beaver Creek and Park City — and four other days at non-Epic resorts — and I just put a deposit down by today’s deadline to get my Epic Pass for next season at the lowest price with the full 10 buddy tickets.

At last season’s unlimited price of $909, 22 days comes out to $41 a day – quite a few of them solid powder days as I don’t really do hard-pack cruiser days anymore unless its’ a social thing. Forty bucks a day is well worth the price of admission, especially if you live in a ski town and can target midweek powder days before the hordes descend on the mountain. Even then, there are so many locals skiing these days that all the freshies get tracked out by 10:30 or so. That’s when I head into north-facing trees for the remnants.

Some people blame this new dynamic on the Epic Pass, which launched for the 2008-09 season for $579. That’s about $822 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation. Next season the unlimited adult Epic Pass is going up to $982, which is still an incredible deal with unlimited skiing at 42 ski areas worldwide. It also includes limited access to Telluride and a slew of other ski areas from Japan to Europe.

When I first moved to Vail in 1991, a season ski pass with no blackout dates was around $1,500, and it was just for Vail and Beaver Creek. A merchant pass obtained through an employer was $850. In 2024 dollars, a 1991 two-resort season pass would cost you about $3,200; a Merchant Pass would be around $1,950.

Also, Colorado’s population in 1990 was 3.3 million, and today it’s 5.9 million – a nearly 80% increase. Our road capacity over that time span has increased just 2.5%. Our skier capacity has honestly probably increased at even slower rate, because, while our ski areas have expanded somewhat – with a few new trails and lifts here and there – no new ski areas have been built in that time span. Beaver Creek in the early 80s was the last major new resort to come online.

Headlines about skier collisions and lack of responsibility on the slopes have been dominating the ski industry news cycle lately, with a Colorado Sun deep dive leading the way in recent days. If it seems crazier and less safe out there on the hill these days, it probably actually is. But blame the population and the popularity of the sport, not the cheaper, multi-mountain ski passes.

Epic Pass sales have nearly doubled since 2020, and they give ski areas economic certainty in far-less-certain times of widely varying weather patterns brought on by manmade climate change. The genie of multi-mountain, much-cheaper ski passes is not going back in the bottle, although we may see an attempt at more private ski areas or independent ski areas charging prices closer to those 1990 rates. But wildfire insurance during an ongoing megadrought and the lack of private land ideal for skiing makes both of those scenarios trickier by the day.

I suspect more and more people will continue pushing into the backcountry – people like me looking for low-angle turns I can earn with my dogs, as well as skinny skiing opportunities far from the lift-served throngs, but unless ski areas start limiting pass sales or hard-capping the number of snow riders on peak days (a highly unlikely scenario that someday may have to be government mandated), we will continue to hear harrowing tales of collisions and injuries.

A big part that is a cultural phenomenon we’ve seen growing over the last decade: A hit-and-run mindset that absolutely devalues the rights and safety of other people from the slopes to the streets to public places everywhere. It’s a mindset that says rules are for others, nothing is my fault, and if I have wealth and resources, I should be able to get away with whatever I want.

I was a dumbass and a risktaker (never fully) growing up in the 80s and 90s, but I like to think I didn’t have the callous disregard for other human beings that I see displayed everyday now in America, from our ski runs to our interstates, and I don’t really know what we do to change that.

That being said, my 50th season of skiing was another great one, with plenty of soft, untrammeled turns high in the Rockies, and I was able to avoid my fellow snow riders pretty easily. Hope the same was true for the vast majority of my Real Vail readers. Keep skiing, and always err on the side of kindness on the mountains and in life.

Editor’s note: The O. Zone is weekly opinion column by RealVail.com publisher David O. Williams.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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