Cavalier enough to ignore the sage advice to download the gondola, we headed home on the same route as the other reserved, yet unreserved masses. Fortunate enough to have skied some spicy, consequential terrain in my days, I was more taut funneling into the catwalk than descending any high alpine chute. Patient enough to sit back and react to the shenanigans unfolding around us, we had a perfect vantage point to witness the deluge of humanity. Protective enough to contemplate whacking anyone that came too close to Violet, I was completely on edge.
Like many of my fellow obsessives, I have been out riding early season lifts, keen to take the opportunity lest it disappear. In an age where proximity is to be rightfully feared, I was hopeful that circumspection would be the prevailing ethos. That naïve illusion was shattered on the initial walk to the base, as multiple groups ambled through the village, their traps hanging in the breeze. Social distancing was a common practice, if by practice one meant trying something repeatedly before doing it correctly.
Increasingly hermetic, I would gladly close Vail Pass and keep the Valley sealed off from the outside world. Imagine the social distancing! But, I begrudgingly recognize the need to balance the mania of a cadre of snowriders with the economic realities of a tourism-based economy with the medical concerns of a spiraling pandemic. My tolerance of this attempt is limited though: we cannot sacrifice the long view for the immediacy of greed.
On the surface, the protective measures appear to be working tolerably well. Gondolas and chairs are loaded based on people’s respective comfort levels riding with strangers. I was impressed with the cordiality shown to those who wisely chose to keep to their own small groups. Still, I fretted over crowding that seems ill-advised as we attempt to stay out of the red or purple or black (sure to be the next notch on the ever-increasing dial of doom).
In this nascent stage of the season, most of the visitors to the mountains have heretofore been locals or folks from the Front Range. I assumed that this population would be especially cautious with safety protocols, wanting to ensure that we can keep our mountains and businesses open while not jeopardizing anyone’s welfare. Yet many are oblivious, despite a daily onslaught of messaging. I am disappointed that the desires of the individual are subsuming the necessities of our Valley.
Beaver Creek’s opening day did not assuage my concerns. As we saw this summer, guests from farther afield are neither as invested in our locality nor as cognizant of the important mores and subtle codes of mountain living. Based on the amount of masklessness and otherwise clueless and reckless behavior witnessed, I fear the effects this will have on the already bonkers scenes unfolding at our local resorts.
Happy as I have been to be out on the slopes, and please note that I have been absolutely thrilled, there comes a point in each day when the languid lines have me heading for the exit. When others have the same instinct, the exodus is more like a wildebeest migration. The circuitous route down from Mid-Vail had the feeling of being in the middle of a Where’s Waldo? scene.
Abject insecurity is the only possible explanation for the speed at which skiers and boarders, young and old, improvidently buzz through tight sections. The juxtaposition of these dingbat daredevils with those frozen by a beginner’s mortal fear would have been comical if it weren’t so prone to disaster. When one person is popping airs into the midst of traffic while another is locked in the most gripped snowplow of all time, it tends to cause consternation at best and catastrophe at worst.
Yes, I can and will disappear on my skins to avoid some of these concerns. Yet, it is not a perfect escape. The me-first attitudes that I have witnessed at the resort are annoying and disheartening; in the backcountry, they could prove deadly.