Off Limits

Look out below! On Monday, as officials of Colorado Ski Country USA proclaimed their neutrality on the issue of helmets on the slopes (last week the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended that skiers and snowboarders use that pesky protective headgear), the state racked up its third skiing death of the season, this one at Breckenridge.

That's going to skew Breckenridge's rating in the "How Safe Is Your Schuss" chart published by the Wall Street Journal last Friday, ranking seven of the country's top ski resorts on several safety barometers. Of the quintet of Colorado areas listed, Keystone rated the safest--one broken ski--with only one death since 1997. Coming in second, with two skis, was Aspen/Snowmass, "well-prepared for accidents" but loaded with "accident-prone" skiers (although fewer Kennedys, after Michael Kennedy's unfortunate collision with a tree on December 31, 1997--a death that wasn't listed on the chart, since Aspen declined to provide figures to the Journal). Tied at three broken skis were "action-packed" Breckenridge and Winter Park.

Bringing up the rear (and the stretcher): Vail, which earned five broken skis and this Journal summary: "While Vail has the most skiers of any resort during the past season (1.6 million skier days), it has fewer ski-patrollers than most major ski areas. Another problem: Male skiers, who are much more accident-prone than women, outnumber females by more than 2-to-1." You can't buy publicity like that! (Now all Vail needs is for a visiting dignitary to decapitate himself at the international races scheduled for the end of this month, as a Spanish prince did the last time the resort hosted such a prestigious event.)

Although Jim Chalat, a local plaintiff's attorney quoted in the Journal, agrees that ski resorts could improve their safety records, he disagrees with the Journal's math on Vail. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Keystone and Copper Mountain are doing a bang-up business in bottom-of-the-hill collisions, he says. And more telling still is the Consumer Product Safety Commission's evaluation of skiing injuries, compiled by studying emergency-room admissions, which inspired its position on helmets.

"Skiing is not a contact sport," notes Chalat, who's made ski law a specialty (and proves it at "Liability breeds responsibility, and immunity breeds impunity."

And familiarity breeds contempt: When RTD boardmembers gathered at a civility retreat last Saturday, some familiar faces were missing. Guide the Ride defeater Jon Caldara chose not to run for another term on the fifteen-member board (he now heads the Independence Institute); after eight years, Ben Klein lost his slot to Rick Garcia. In the past, Caldara says, outgoing boardmembers would get such mementos as pieces of original artwork; this year they received "cheesy digital clocks that you get when you open a Sears charge account." But the knowledge he received during his four years on the board was priceless, Caldara says: "I was distrustful of government before, and now I'm just scared to death of it." He also left a little something for the new board to remember him by: a ruling that it takes ten votes--two-thirds of the boardmembers--to authorize studies, a ruling upheld by the courts. "By my calculations," Caldara says, "I see five 'no' votes. That means the rest need to all hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' for light rail."

Which they may well have been doing at the first session of Saturday's retreat, "Effective board functioning: A code of conduct." Klein and Caldara remember a similar retreat four years ago. "As you can tell," Caldara says, "it worked superbly."

"I predict there will be very few news items coming out of RTD," says Klein, the subject of many news items after run-ins with staffers and RTD head Cal Marsella. "Since I'm gone, it'll be in the control of Mr. Marsella, and I think that's very dangerous."

But like Caldara, Klein's getting out with more than just a digital clock. "I leave with a clear conscience," says the only Colorado politician ever certified sane. "I'll be back."

Milk it for all it's worth: Schoolteachers who ordered the Denver Post's Newspapers in Education teaching kit for the stock show (official sponsor: the Denver Post) received a glitzy set of lesson plans from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association--copyright 1992. Billed as an environmental package, "Caretakers All" illustrates the "interdependence" of cattle and ranchers (if the rancher doesn't bring hay to his cattle in winter, it "may mean fewer burgers, steaks or roasts on your table"). And then there's the interdependence of cattle and newspapers, which can be shredded, used as an alternative to straw for bedding and then "plowed into fields to hasten decomposition" after it's "saturated with manure." Hey--we thought some dailies came that way


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