Skiing Is Believing

cartographic October

Who knows if any of this news will matter to anyone now that Snooki has given birth, but Michael Phelps wants to join his mountain brethren in our sports of choice. Some parts of the U.S. will have better snow than they did last year; some of us will freeze our asses off. And no doubt there’s a pending lawsuit in whatever we choose to do.

1. A WTF frontrunner

We’re not sure if this 2006 entry in the WTF Hall of Fame is the absolute nadir for the legal world, but when seven-year-old Scott Swimm got sued for accidentally crossing over a man’s skis on a Beaver Creek catwalk at 10 mph, the reputation of the human species took a decidedly southward turn. The 48-pound Swimm and David Pfahler, 60, of Allentown, Penn. tipped over after Pfahler turned in front of Swimm. Pfahler reportedly grabbed the boy and told him to expect a lawsuit. Months later, a sheriff’s deputy showed up at the Swimm home in Eagle-Vail to serve papers to the child. It’s anyone’s guess who felt worse — the newly appointed defendant or the cop. Suffering a shoulder injury and claiming the young Swimm was in violation of the Colorado Ski Safety Act, Pfahler sought more than $75,000 in losses. His wife got in on the action as well, claiming that she had spent considerable time nursing her husband back to health. Long story short, the Swimms reluctantly let their insurance cover the claim — thereby giving up Scott’s right to sue Pfahler when he turned 18. They were featured in a 2009 U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad campaign against lawsuit abuse.

2. Clime and punishment

Having called the shots on the 2011-2012 Winter That Wasn’t, the Farmers’ Almanac is back at it for the 2012-2013 season, predicting that places suffering from drought should start to trend toward normal — if not seriously good — precip. Using several variations on the word “excrement,” there are many descriptions for the worst season in 30 years, so for the sake of bringing skiers and riders in off their window ledges, we hope the FA is right. In addition, we personally checked out the NOAA/NESDIS Geo-Polar Blended 11 km SST Analysis for The Equatorial Pacific, and initial conclusions point to a little less snow in the northern Rockies and Northwest, with southern storms fueling better-than-average powder in Mammoth, New Mexico, northern Arizona, Utah’s Southern Wasatch range, and in Colorado: Wolf Creek, Durango and maybe even Summit County.

3. Swimming sucks in comparison

Michael Phelps has a lot going for him as he segues into skiing/snowboarding. Before shattering Olympic medal records in London, the swimmer declared he’d like to take up snow-sliding sports when he could get a little mangled and not damage his career. “I knew if I got hurt, it wouldn’t be good,” he said. Anyway, we’re guessing those award-winning paddles at the ends of his legs are going to make boot-fitting difficult and that Phelps will ultimately use his own feet — adequately waxed, of course — in lieu of boards. And while he hasn’t revealed where he plans to obtain his new skills in skiing, snowboarding or paddlefooting this winter, we’re putting our money on Aspen.

4. At what price do we pay to play?

When Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke died from brain injuries last winter after crashing at the bottom of the Park City superpipe (following a routine 540-degree flat spin), the very sad incident raised the question: Can protective gear keep up with extreme sports? Stating the blatantly obvious, researchers say human bodies just weren’t made to withstand hard impacts at big speeds, or to get dropped upside down, and that despite the continued development of helmets, boots, bindings and various braces and paddings, the fatality rate in snow sports hasn’t improved in 40 years of tracking — although there have been changes in how we specifically die. Thirty-five to 40 people die each year at U.S. ski areas, not counting heart attacks, avalanches and the occasional fall from a lift. Statistically, there are .7 trauma-related deaths for every million skier visits. For those not wearing helmets, head injuries are the cause of death more than 75 percent of the time. If you’re wearing a helmet and manage to expire on the slopes (short of a heart attack), it’s most likely due to torso trauma, usually the result of hitting rocks, trees or other skiers. It also should be noted that, while helmets help the statistics, nearly half of deaths among people who wear helmets are due to head injuries. That kind of sucks, no?

5. Bargains

A survey last year by TripIndex claimed that Salt Lake City is the best place to ski on the cheap, where a trip can cost as little as $239. That compares to Vail, at $746; Aspen, $673; and Park City, $667. The figures are based on one night in a hotel, a basic ski-rental package, an adult one-day ticket, a local restaurant meal and a beer purchased at a ski resort. The Salt Lake City ranking was apparently due to affordable lodging — $122, compared to Vail at $582 nightly. MG researchers, however, found considerably better deals at the latter, and if you want to get the best rates for lift tickets, remember that the ticket window is usually the most expensive way to go. Plan ahead, find a couch and know that you get more mileage from your beer dollar the farther you get from a ski area.

Tara Flanagan is an equine enthusiast who lives in Breckenridge, CO.