These are the RealVail archived files. Please visit our new site:
MM_XSLTransform error.
Error opening
Heart Transplant
Backcountry, motorcycling, hiking, biking and most all other outdoor activities in the Vail Valley
If unfamiliar with use of lift, ask an attendant for instruction
An unidentified man dangles from Vail Chair 37 Skyline Express Lift at the bottom of Blue Sky Basin and Tea Cup Bowl in Vail’s Back Bowls. Vail infamy in the making.
Photo courtesy of

If unfamiliar with use of lift, ask an attendant for instruction

Bottom's up at Blue Sky's Skyline
By Scott Proper

January 6, 2009 —  Hey, we've all been there. You know, the lift comes around, you're a little busy daydreaming about something else, and all of a sudden the chair catches you off guard. Next thing you know, you are hanging from the lift upside down for 15 minutes with your pants around your ankles, which of course are now above your head. You are on display for the whole world of tourists to take photos and entertain themselves while you flail and await rescue.

Er, wait a second. Doesn't sound familiar? Well, it happened at Vail recently.

Photos taken by concerned citizens mysteriously made their way onto prominent websites and newspapers almost immediately. Ah, the information age. What a blessing to learn immediately about a profound human event like this.

Soon afterward, the virtual peanut gallery started chiming in. I read a letter to the editor of the local paper censuring the paper for printing a photo of the improvised ski lift trapeze artist, stating that printing the photos was in poor taste.

If unfamiliar with use of lift, ask an attendant for instruction
Lift ops in Vail's back bowls assist in the emergency
Photo courtesy of

People need to chill out. The guy wasn't hurt. This kind of stuff doesn't happen every day. The man is not identifiable through the photos. There is no full frontal nudity. And if anything, it's FUNNY! If you can't have a sense of humor about anything (or everything), then it's time to reassess. I mean you don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff.

Meanwhile, if our improvised trapeze artist would please come forward, I would happily buy him a beer. Maybe I would also volunteer a quick chairlift lesson. After all, thanks for reminding us that there is a reason for the sign at each chairlift that says "If unfamiliar with use of chairlift, please ask an attendant for instruction."

commnet icon  Submit a comment on "If unfamiliar with use of lift, ask an attendant for instruction"

How not to get run over by some idiot
The blogger makes a point of guarding against uphill ski traffic coming too close on Vail Mountain.
Photo courtesy of Scott Proper 

How not to get run over by some idiot

Tips to guard yourself against an on-mountain collision
By Scott Proper

December 2, 2008 —  If you ski or snowboard, then you've probably had to stop and wait along the side (not the middle, clueless gaper!) of a trail for whatever reason. While waiting along the side, you have probably had an instance when someone uphill headed towards you at a great rate of speed, then dodged you at the last second, as if you were a slalom gate.

This kind of flyby buzzing is not fun, and can be dangerous if the idiot winds up plowing into you. I have found a humble (and effective) solution to protect myself from incoming bogeys, and in the interest of your health and safety, I figured it's only courteous to share.

First of all, defense is the best offense, so I am very aware of where I stop on a trail. I always stop as close to the side of a trail as possible, and use my skis to block the gap between myself and the trees so no one gets the idea that they can cut between me and the trees.

Before I stop, I look around and ask myself, "if I stop here, can people uphill see me clearly, or am I basically invisible (because, for instance, I am on the blind side of a roller)?" I look to see whether I am standing in the middle of an entry point from the trees, where tree skiers exit the woods and join back up to a trail. As you undoubtedly have noticed, self-awareness is really important, especially when the holiday hordes descend on the mountain.

However, for some reason, no matter how strategically I select where to stop, incoming bogeys regularly engage missile lock and head towards me as if I were a target laser-lit by Navy SEALs.

In such instances, I take my poles and point them toward said incoming bogey. One positive that usually happens in result is that the bogey makes eye contact with me. Sometimes, this alone is enough for the bogey to steer clear. If the bogey gets close enough, I can usually see the disapproving look of "what the hell are you doing?" on said bogey's face.

I keep my poles pointed toward the incoming bogey until it's passed and the threat rate has dropped to orange. All the while, I dynamically scout uphill to identify other potential threats, keeping my poles pointed at those bogeys that pose the highest threat (and hoping my buddies will hurry up so we can get going again!)

The look of disapproval probably is an expression of the bogey's awareness of the potential for self-injury. Theoretically, if an incoming bogey skied towards me without successfully dodging me, and I execute the pole-point professionally, the bogey would impale itself on my pole(s).

This is kind of similar to what might happen if a person ran, in an all-out sprint, into a knight's static jousting spear. Fortunately, since I am downhill of the incoming bogey, I have the right of way. Check your "Know the Skier's Code" napkin over lunch at the Smokehouse if you're skeptical of this.

At the very least, this technique is a great way to meet new people. In about five instances (so far), incoming bogeys have stopped downhill from me. That they stop downhill from me instead of uphill, where they can fall down onto me and impale themselves on my jousting spears, er, ski poles, is a testament to the effectiveness of the technique.

A few have asked "what are you doing?" One even yelled, "you shouldn't do that, you could hurt someone!" To those who have asked me what I am doing, I have answered anything from "making sure I have your attention" to "calibrating the bionic GPS that is mounted in my anus." It all depends on my mood.

The one sucka who didactically declared that "I could hurt some one" set himself up in pretty special manner, as I had been practicing my response: "I am passively standing here along the side of the trail. I have the right of way.

In order to discourage people like you from treating me like a slalom gate, I passively hold my poles toward incoming bogeys to protect myself. The bogeys can impale themselves on my poles if they wish." Believe it or not, the guy responded by saying, "That's a great idea, I hate it when out-of-control people buzz past me and my kids." I told him he owed me $5 for the lesson.

For your safety, I've included a photo illustration of myself engaged in the technique.

commnet icon  10 Comments on "How not to get run over by some idiot"


Carole Onderdonk — December 2, 2008

Great article. I'm sendihg it along.


Michael M — December 2, 2008

who wears white ski pants anyway? - maybe if they were brighter you wouldnt have so many problems.


commnet icon  Submit and read more comments on "How not to get run over by some idiot" now!

A bad day in the chutes
The author with a look of dread before heading into Racquet Club Chute.
By Scott Proper 

A bad day in the chutes

Hearing deafening cracks in Racquet Club Chute, skiing for our lives
By Scott Proper

February 21, 2008 —  On Jan. 22, 2005, I skied Racquet Club Chute with a good friend of mine. By the time we got to the bottom, I had literally pissed my pants and he and I hugged each other, feeling lucky to be alive.

At the end of the ski day, we took last “chair” up the Mongolia surface lift. We then hiked up to the backcountry gate as we normally would and skied along the top of Marvin's Garden to the “saddle” at the top of Racquet Club Chute.

Racquet Club Chute is the northern aspect that leads down into East Vail from the ridge that separates East Vail and Mushroom bowl. This northern chute takes you past Racquet Club Falls and to the Vail Racquet Club. The southern aspect from this saddle in the ridge takes you into the thick trees of Mushroom Bowl and eventually the bottom of Chair 10.

At the top of Racquet Club Chute, we saw a snow pit that had been dug very recently. The tracks from the snow pit indicated that the group had opted to stay in the trees and avoid snowfields. We snooped around in the pit a bit and dug back the snow; the snowpack was absolutely awful.

A bad day in the chutes
A view of East Vail from the entry point into Racquet Club Chute.
By Scott Proper 

It was completely obvious why the folks who had dug the snow pit stuck to the trees. The snow pit revealed that a number of hard layers, firm enough to snap in half, were separated by sugary layers, and all were atop a giant layer of sugary snow. When snow feels like sugar, it's “faceted,” and it basically acts like ball bearings upon which snow layers will readily slide.

To say we were no longer psyched about our decision to ski the chutes is an understatement. We were flat-out scared at that point. It was too late to escape via Mushroom Bowl. We would have been in those trees for hours, and it was almost dark. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

For some reason, just before we entered the chute, I took a photo. From there on down, the camera stayed in my pocket. My expression in that photo is humbling to me.

We entered the chute and things were going fine for the first few turns. My buddy and I were alternating and skiing one to a line at a time, and we were moving methodically and surgically, but very quickly. We had plenty of experience doing this together before, having skied the chutes and Marvin's Garden together many times.
That experience, combined with the stress of the snow conditions, led us to be particularly efficient and smooth this time, I felt.

About 20 turns in, I started to hear loud cracks. I yelled to my buddy, “What the hell are you doing?” The cracks were deafening and sounded like gunfire, and I honestly felt relieved for a second because I concluded there were obviously people ahead of us who had avalanche grenades and were using them clearing the terrain. After all, what else could be that loud?

“Those are the trees, we gotta get outta here!” is what I remember my buddy saying.

The loud explosions we were hearing were, unfortunately, NOT avalanche grenades. They were coming from the settling and shifting snow we were skiing on, and from the 3-foot-diameter lodgepole pines whose trunks were cracking under the pressure of the snow creep.

My buddy and I had talked many times before about the plan when things get really hairy, and we both executed professionally. The plan was simple: point ’em. We pointed our skis down the fall line and took off. We abandoned alternating lines. We were doing the skiing equivalent of running for our lives.

About all I remember is gunning it. Fortunately, neither of us fell. The fast skiing through the tight trees and surprise cliffs was probably something I could not duplicate ever again, because the adrenaline commanded more of my body than I did. The experience was surreal; I felt more like a spectator than a participant. And I thought that this is exactly the kind of out-of-body experience people have before they die.

We got to the top of Racquet Club Falls, which is about 1,800 vertical feet below the top of the chute, and I simply collapsed. The adrenaline level had dropped and my mind got a hold of things. My legs were absolutely fried. I couldn't move. I had basically sweated through everything I was wearing. My pants were particularly sweaty.
My buddy and I had nothing to talk about and just looked at each other. It was over. Or at least, we felt it was over enough to take a break for a minute.

I got back up and we hucked the western side of Racquet Club Falls and skied to Meadow Drive. At the time, I lived at Vail Racquet Club condos so we had basically skied right home. A beer was in order.

We popped our skis off upon reaching Meadow Drive just as a group of people were exiting the town bus at the Vail Racquet Club bus stop. It was one of those sublime moments for me, as I thought that while we were just up there in that chute staring at death among the cracking, faceted snow and exploding lodgepole trunks, these people had been on the bus home and were thinking about what to have for dinner.

On the road, we celebrated a bit. I jumped up and down and screamed in celebration, subsequently scaring the folks walking past us who had just exited the bus. My buddy and I high-fived and immediately began recounting what we had experienced. It had been absolutely crazy, and as primed to slide as it possibly could have.

Thanks to luck and sticking to lines in tightly packed, albeit exploding trees, we had made it out. I told him that I at first thought that the cracking and trees were avalanche grenades exploding downhill from us. His response was something to the tune of, “Yeah, you thought that at first because you're a stupid New York transplant.”

Point taken, I thought. I had and still have a lot to learn. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

commnet icon  4 Comments on "A bad day in the chutes"


kevin — June 24, 2008

Bad ASS!


ac — January 26, 2009

You were in a position to make a very easy and safe ski to Mill Creek Rd. which would have taken you down to Ch. 10 or the Village in not much time at all. If 22 was open, it couldn't have been that late in the day. Why did you drop in when you knew beforehand that the slope was unstable? Always have a backup/bail plan.


commnet icon  Submit and read more comments on "A bad day in the chutes" now!

Curiosity and Vail's Backcountry Gates
Marvin's Garden in the East Vail Chutes may look tempting on a huge powder day, but there's a reason there are no trees in the midst of the best lines.
Photos by Scott and Paulina Proper 

Curiosity and Vail's Backcountry Gates

By Scott Proper

February 4, 2008 —  You've heard the chatter about Marvin's Garden, Mushroom Bowl and the East Vail Chutes. You've looked toward Mount of the Holy Cross while riding up Blue Sky Express and seen the ridge across Earl's Bowl with beautiful powder with ski tracks in it. Maybe you've wondered "what is that?" or maybe you've been jealous.

Curiosity can kill the cat. This past Saturday (Jan. 26), which was a fabulous, sunny, 30-degree day, we were skiing Grand Review and a group of four stopped us to ask, “Where is the backcountry gate?”

They were referring to the backcountry gate that allows people to exit the ski area and ski the aspect that's east of the north-south ridge Grand Review follows. It's marked as "Wildlife Habitat - No Access" on trail maps because it was identified as lynx habitat when the environmental impact study was done to assess the feasibility of Blue Sky Basin.

“You missed it,” I replied, because they were indeed about a half mile past the gate.

“Oh, so it's up higher?” one of the folks said with a British accent. He turned to his group and said, “Let's try again!”

“Has any one of you gone through that gate and skied the terrain before?” I asked.


“I humbly suggest that unless you've gone there before or have someone to guide you, don't go there,” I said.

I then went on to elaborate about the different skiable lines beyond the gate, which vary from reasonably challenging terrain with tight trees to lines that lead you to getting cliffed out (i.e., you are in such a position that you must either huck, hike back up to escape hucking, or stay put, dial 911, and hope you're in range).

I also mentioned the avalanche deaths that have happened this season (Jan. 4 and 12 in the East Vail Chutes) and how they indicate a particularly unstable snowpack. Furthermore, through that particular gate it's easy to get lost.

The group appeared to get the gist and decided to avoid the gate, only after asking us whether we would take them through the gate and guide them if they paid us. The answer was an easy “no.” No, because I'm not taking responsibility for you. No, because you're probably going to hurt yourself.

There are a number of backcountry areas adjacent to virtually all aspects of Vail Mountain and Blue Sky Basin that are a short hike at most from the top of a lift. You've heard of some: the Minturn Mile, Mushroom Bowl, the East Vail Chutes.

If you know how to get there, great, and if not, I ain't tellin’. Neither are most other locals, apparently. Most screen their audience in a manner similar to how I responded to the group on Jan. 26.

Furthermore, there is basically no information available on the Internet (I looked) about these areas. While supporting the concept of freedom of information, I speculate that there is no information out there because locals intentionally withhold it. Kind of like how you don't post instructions on how to make dynamite, even if you know how.

Most locals I’ve talked to about the two deaths (so far) this season in Marvin's Garden, a giant, spectacular, steep, north-facing bowl “easily” accessible through a backcountry gate atop Outer Mongolia Bowl, have generally said the same thing: “I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often.”

They feel this way because of the increased traffic in the area and the increased risk those who go there incur. Marvin's Garden's upper two-thirds basically has no trees, although the entire area is well below timberline. This is of course because the terrain was burned by the same fire that made the legendary Back Bowls, and because the snow avalanches regularly.

In the summertime, the saplings that are visible are very small at best and generally no higher than three feet tall. That's because anything higher, on average, gets mowed down by an avalanche soon after busting that three-foot ceiling.

Preparation for heading through a backcountry gate, in my opinion, requires equipment, experience, skill, education, and a good deal of humility. Matt Gustafson, who died Jan. 12 skiing a very thrilling, aggressive, and exposed line in Marvin's Garden, was probably among the most experienced and accomplished East Vail Chutes skiers ever.

He was also our neighbor for the past two and a half years. He was a regular in the Chutes over the past couple years, and already had about 25 days in this season skiing the various lines offered by Marvin's Garden and the Chutes. He had the training, the knowledge, the experience, and the proper gear. He had the humility but sadly flipped the wrong side of the coin.

That is part of the reality of going out of bounds, or of even staying in bounds, as the tree well deaths this season at Steamboat attest. Nobody wants to think about the wrong side of the coin. Folks may romanticize the East Vail Chutes as an area of endless powder and big air, which in general they are, but the Chutes don't care whether you have the best ski day of the year on them or whether you die.

Following the two deaths in the East Vail Chutes, there has been plenty of hullabaloo about closing access to the backcountry. Big Brother knows best, apparently. Fortunately, the Forest Service has done nothing other than say that there are no plans to close the backcountry and that users go there at their own risk.

I feel that the freedom to live life to its fullest involves incurring calculated risk, whether you're simply crossing the street, driving your car, or skiing avalanche-prone terrain in the backcountry.

Accidents are that unexpected side of the probability coin rearing his ugly head. Humility doesn't stop him from rearing it. Humility means you acknowledge and respect him and recognize he's always lingering.

— By Scott Proper

commnet icon  2 Comments on "Curiosity and Vail's Backcountry Gates"


john — November 28, 2008

the locals at vail are all jongs. stories like this meant to scare people from going out of bounds makes me sick. Granted having the proper avalanche training and skier ability is a must, but i've seen countless stories like this only run whenever there is a death out in the backcountry...why don't you run stories about texans hitting trees inbounds in Colorado? get a life Proper


david — December 4, 2008

Good Idea....don't be scared...he haw!


commnet icon  Submit and read more comments on "Curiosity and Vail's Backcountry Gates" now!

Read More Blog Entries
Blog entry 5 through 8 of 8 total entries
Bloggers Profile and Information Snow Report Ticker

more new stories...

more new stories...

more resort guides...