Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Travails on the Mountain Travails on the Mountain

Monday was a nice day skiing after a cold weekend. Saturday the wind was bad enough that most of the ski area was closed, leaving three chair lifts running on the front (Dercum's) mountain at Keystone. I did run into a long time friend Monday who had been the mountain manager there and had left in a dispute with Vail Resorts. This was the first time he had been back on his old mountain since then. Looks like he is going to land on his feet though, given the offers he is getting.

Then, I ran down the mountain for gang grooming to close a trail on the bottom. Nine grooming machines ultimately came by and I raced up the Summit Express to try to catch them at the top. But for some reason or another, they were downloading on that chair, and shut it down to half speed when I was about half way up (usually, they don't download on that chair when the gondola running next to it is still running, but did so Mon.) Barely missing the cats on the top, I raced off after them, just to run into some minor emergency a couple of hundred yards down.

When that was over, dropped by our dispatch, picked up another radio, and headed down Silverspoon to look for speeding racers. The problem is that the Summit HS team, as well as Team Summit, train at the local areas in the afternoons. Kids are kids, and these kids are good enough to ski fast when they have the chance. So, we had a gauntlet set up down that run on the way to their course on Haywood. I'd told them a week before to take another route, but... But the other Mountain Watch were gone, and I only caught about a dozen of them, they weren't that bad this time, so let them go after a little lecture.

I cut it close, catching the patrol shutting down the Montezuma lift. Rode up with one of the supervisors, and then headed down the ridge to my dispatch to turn in radios and sign out. And then disaster struck.

I got a call from the patrol dispatcher on our land line. And she asked that I go to the bottom of the Peru chair to help a kid find his bus. Fine. I got ready to go, and she called back to tell me that he was actually over at the top of Peru (a couple hundred yards away from me). I humped over there just as lift ops was shutting the chair down for the night. It was now about 4:30, and I got on the phone with Guest Services trying to enlist them into this effort. Of course, a lot of them had gone home already... Any case, they set up to meet us at the bottom of the gondola and we started putting on our skiis to head down, when the guy mentioned that this was his first day on skiis. So, we were about 2 1/2 miles by trail from the bottom, he had a half an hour to catch his bus, and this was his first day on skiis. I remember asking myself: why hadn't he downloaded there when the lift had been running ten minutes earlier?

Of course, by now, ski patrol had shown up for sweep, and we were hanging them up. Which turns out to mean hanging up the entire patrol because they all connect up down on the mountain. Which is why they were a bit surly about it. Only solution was a "taxi" ride by snomobile down for the kid. Only of course, the patrol "do" was off somewhere else. While waiting for him to show up (and three other patrol glaring at us), I got the kid to try to talk to someone on his bus on his cell phone. About the third time, I got him to have the kid at the other end hand the phone to an adult, and I took the kid's phone and gave him the phone number of guest services. Oh, and by now, the patrol "do" was there, revving his engine to indicate that we should hurry.

And then were were off, racing to the bottom, the "do" and I, to be passed by a lift ops "do" about halfway down. You don't see them open up until the mountain is empty, and then they scream down the slopes. I stopped and talked to a couple of patrol about 2/3 of the way down, asking that they tell their dispatch that we were now below them. And I lost the "do" there. So, I continued screaming to the bottom, cutting over onto River Run at Dercum's Dash. One of the patrol there yelled at me as I went by, and came down angry that I hadn't stopped. I saw Guest Services with a guest in their little vehicle at the bottom, looked around, and the "do' was coming out at Ina's - I had managed to pass him as he took the longer way. I got everyone together, and that was that. And the patrol who had yelled at me to stop appologized, and told me that if I was going by the "Green Light", could I help him. But the "do" driver offered to take me back up Ina's so I could get to the other base area, and took the offer. And that was where all the patrol were congregating, making sure that the mountain was clear after sweep.

It turns out that the group that this kid belonged were all a bit mentally disabled, i.e. borderline retarded. I didn't figure that out until I took the phone from the kid, and Guest Services found out when one of their adults called the number I had given him. Because we didn't know, we didn't realize that though the kid obviously realized there were a lot of problems, he didn't really understand what they were. We all made a lot of mistakes assumming him "normal", up and down the line. No wonder he didn't realize the implications of being stuck on the mountain 2 1/2 miles from the bottom on his first day of skiing with all the lifts shut down, etc. To my small credit, I think I was the first to realize that this was a borderline crisis. But, as I told the patrol dispatcher later: Alls well that ends well.

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