Enforcers keep speed down on slopes | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Enforcers keep speed down on slopes

William Ferchland, Tribune staff writer
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Ralph Thomas, a member of the "Yellow Jackets" gives the slow down sign to skiers and snowboarders on Maggie's run at Heavenly Ski Resort.

Like a yellow traffic sign warning of rough roads, Ralph Thomas warns skiers and snowboarders to slow down.

Thomas is supervisor of the Yellow Jackets, a team at Heavenly Ski Resort that educates people to slow down in heavy traffic zones and family areas.

On Nov. 28, when the 2003-04 ski season was still in its infancy, a helmeted Bridgette Clement, 13, died after hitting a tree at Alpine Ski Resort. It sent a jolt to ski resorts and snow sliders who heard the news. South Shore ski resorts have implemented ways to make guest safety a No. 1 concern with groups like the Yellow Jackets.

Thomas and his crew of nine are set up at heavy traffic zones to put the brakes on those speeding. First-time offenders will receive a short education on the matter. The second time they’re caught could mean an escort off the mountain.

The Yellow Jackets are in their second year at Heavenly.

“I want my crew to be out interacting with the public,” Thomas said, adding that the Yellow Jackets are different than ski patrol, who give aid to injured skiers and help search for those lost on or off the slopes.

Sierra-at-Tahoe has a similar program, but the traffic enforcers wear light red jackets. The crew has the authority to kick somebody off the mountain for repeated offenses.

Heavenly and Sierra participate in Safety Awareness Week, a national program designated to raise caution on the mountain. Sierra has Captain Safety, who wears a red cape and quizzes people on the ski safety code. Prizes are awarded for correct answers.

At Sierra’s terrain park, a code of knowing the landing is clear is to start small then go bigger and, above all, respect others.

Helmets are available to rent at Sierra. Heavenly recommends the devices for 15 years of age and under. Parents or guardians who decline the use of helmets for their children at Heavenly’s ski and snowboard school have to sign a waiver. Helmets do not offer full protection. The Bay Area girl who died was wearing a helmet when she hit the tree.

“A helmet will protect you to an extent,” said Nicole Belt, Sierra- and Northstar-at-Tahoe’s communications director. “It’s not a safety blanket.”

On Wednesday, brothers Randy and Russ Wigart were wearing helmets while snowboarding.

“I think anytime you’re going at high speeds you should wear a helmet in any sport,” Russ Wigart said, adding he has been knocked unconscious riding with a helmet.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.

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