Liberty has terrific safety measures, and this week I saw firsthand how effective they are. For the first time in over 40 years of skiing, I was crashed into from behind and knocked off the trail into the woods. No one was hurt, and the ski patrol was fantastic! But, it was a valuable lesson. First of all, it is amazing it took this long to happen, considering the amount of skiing I do. I have gone into the woods a few times on my own, when I caught an edge. This is the first time I did so in tandem. I found out it is not much different from falling. You have to be relaxed, and be prepared for it to happen at any time.
The most important lesson I learned was, keep moving on the slopes - especially when they are crowded, hard packed, and fast (as they are on weekends this time of the year). We are all making up for the weeks we lost. Since both of us were moving forward when the encounter took place, the impact was light. If I had been standing still and meditating, as I often do in the beautiful mountains, the impact would have been greater.
The incident occurred on the end of Sidewinder, which was one of the easiest trails of the day. The young-ish snowboarder could not stop, and hit me from behind. We were tangled together as we hurtled off the trail and into the woods. He was such a lovely gentleman, and so apologetic. He gripped me tight in a cross chest hold, and kept telling me how sorry he was. The poor guy probably thought he was killing his grandmother! For my part, I was laughing the whole time until we stopped rolling and sliding. It was nervous laughter, but it was a relief to know, even in mid fall, you could be hit and not hurt.
Two professional ski patrollers were there instantly. They retrieved my polls, helped me take off the other ski, and would not let either of us continue down on our own, until they determined we were intact.
So again, the lessons here are - look uphill before you proceed, keep moving, and stay loose and relaxed if you fall or are hit. And, as for my snowboard friend, if you read this, you were lovely, and there was no need to apologize!
Safety is a major concern at Liberty, as it is at all the resorts. But, on that crowded Saturday, I was more impressed than ever. Mountain safety volunteers stood on several sections of the trails, blowing whistles and telling people to slow down. Large nets were also in place across the trails, in other sections. You had to wind through them and slow down. My husband Charles and I spoke with Michael Case, the Director of Mountain Safety. He leads 60 volunteers, and explained some of the measures they take. Mike said they try to keep Liberty safe for family-style skiing, they promote safety (by instructing school children on the buses, for example), and they enforce safety by marking or revoking lift tickets, if the user is reckless, especially at crowded times.
Of course, we all know there are risks and thrills in the sport - that is one reason we choose it over spending time as couch potatoes. The greatest risks appear to me to be confined to the terrain park areas, but those athletes seem to know what they are doing. Many wear helmets and protective gear and, thankfully - so far - I have never witnessed any major injuries among them, even when they are jumping, flipping, or cruising over obstacles.
As for the skiing Saturday, as always I had a blast. The snow was hard packed but well groomed. It was cold on Saturday, but the sun was shinning. The back side of the mountain has the best runs and is sheltered from the wind. All the trails were in great shape, but I stayed on single diamond or lower. (I don’t think the trail in the woods was rated!), The large, hard packed moguls seemed a bit much for me, but the experts out there handled them with ease. I have got to get my old confidence back!
I love to attend special events in the mountains, and one of my favorites was this weekend’s luge challenge. We have attended it for at least 3 years at Liberty. Verizon is a leading sponsor of the US Luge team, and they do it at least as well as they do telephones!
Their group tours a variety of resorts. Those who wish to participate can do so for free. You are given a small plastic luge, taught the basics of control, and sent whizzing down a curving track. If you do not tilt your body in the right direction, you will hit the wall and probably flip over. I saw several people do this, but no one is going fast enough to get hurt.
Since I have done this several times, and am a big fan of sleigh riding and tubing, I had no real trouble; I made it down the course in 22.5 seconds, which meant I could have qualified for the race. But that would have meant standing on the cold, windy hillside for several hours and I was anxious to go skiing. Besides, the luge is not much fun on an extremely cold day. The ice chunks fly into your face, and bite your skin. The Verizon people provide helmets and goggles, which are essential, and I had a partial face mask, but real luge racing, like bobsleds and airboards, are not for the comfort seekers!
Those hundreds who participated for the two days of racing had an exciting time. They also competed for generous gifts. Many of the families said they had never thought of skiing or snowboarding, but would do so now that they have been to the winter mountains for the first time. So the Luge challenge is a worthwhile event for the resort and for the communications company. I love it; maybe there is a space for me on the Jamaican bobsled team?
Before I close off this item, I want to put in one more good word for Liberty - the staff. They are all so warm and wonderful. Many are our neighbors, commuting up from the Washington or Baltimore metro areas. Some of the nicest people are in guest services - Shannon Boyle, Sandy Kauffman, Ava Winner, Vicky Foth, and others. So, the next time you are at Liberty, stop in and say thanks to them. They are easy to find - wedged in between the ticket windows and McKee’s Tavern!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.