Ski CB

MAX D’ONOFRIO/Special to the Sentinel

Tom Hesse skis down the Powder 8 Gully at Crested Butte, possibly in violation of some local customs.

Growing up in Wyoming, state statutes regarding road etiquette were something of a punchline. But don’t take it from me; let’s see how Teton County law enforcement described it to a Jackson Hole newspaper 14 years ago:

“When I came to Wyoming 17 years ago, a person could be drinking a beer and have a loaded gun and wave to a cop at a stoplight and it was legal,” said Capt. Jim Whalen of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office. “I just thought I lived in a state that was resistant to change and it was sort of worn as a badge of honor that we were one of the last states to comply” with federal DUI regulations.

The constable in that article was discussing the passage — again, in 2007 — of a law that finally did away with a state provision allowing there to be an open container in a moving vehicle so long as the open container did not belong to the driver.

You’re not going to believe this but, prior to the legislative change, state law enforcement regularly voiced concern that such a provision simply allowed drivers to pass their drinks to passengers in the event of a traffic stop. This could explain why locals referred to it as the “hold my beer” law.

In the same way an archaeologist might determine the age of a fossil based on the stratigraphy of surrounding soils, you can get a decent feel for what generation of Wyomingite you’re talking to based on which cosmically irresponsible liquor laws they remember from their youth.

I was reminded of these — oh, let’s be polite and call them “eccentricities” — last week in a discussion about local etiquette at ski ares.

Before colossal resorts standardized things like crowd flow policies and slapped a sign ahead of every possible question in every possible language, ski areas were governed by a complex web of oral tradition and handed-down hierarchies.

These rules governed everything from lift lines to acceptable resting points on a given run, and they usually originated from someone named Gunner or Squirrel or Chunk or any other manner of name that doesn’t regularly appear on tax filings.

Oftentimes, these local rules are passed off as a connection to the past, and in many cases, they’re harmless.

An annual race from the top of the mountain that ski patrol has been trying to shut down for 15 years?

Fine enough, provided the race course doesn’t cut through ski school. I’m generally supportive of such poor behavior provided the consequences are limited to the participants.

However, these rules have felt less cultural recently unless that culture is belief that little mountains can somehow stay little forever. I’m sure this in no way serves as an allegory for growth in Western states more broadly.

It’s when the local rules act less as tradition and more as a mechanism for exclusion that I feel like I’m staring through a time machine at the etiquette of yesteryear.

No one’s happy about lift lines that stretch so far back that Colorado State troopers have jurisdiction, but hectoring others for their unfamiliarity with your queuing principles isn’t going to move things along as much as locals might hope it does.

It’s a fine line between tradition and exclusion, and I’m not nearly as proficient at explaining it as I am complaining about it.

But, as ski resorts lose any semblance to the era under which the unwritten rules were unwritten down, decades-old lift line rules feel less like a shared mountain heritage. Feels more like letting a truckload of Wyoming boys pound Steel Reserve as they drive across Crook County.


Tom Hesse is city editor at The Daily Sentinel.