Crgldart and SkiMangoJazz--
I'm glad you're discussing this point of real ambiguity with the current Responsibility Code. Whether it's the "downhill skier" (as in older versions of the Code) or the "skier ahead" (current language) who has the right of way, there are certain situations where neither wording makes the responsibility clear--and may well suggest that the fault lies on the skier who common sense says clearly is not in the wrong.
Imagine the scenario of a novice skier snowplowing slowly and in control down a wide groomed green run, when some idiot in a railed out carve swoops wide and carves a turn back uphill, clobbering the novice "from below" at high speed. Clearly, the reckless idiot was "the downhill skier" (at least at the moment of collision), showing the biggest problem with the old Code wording. And both skiers were "ahead of" each other, showing that the new wording is, at best, ambiguous. Common sense easily convicts the reckless skier, but "Your Responsibility Code" does not.
Another situation the Code fails to address suitably is much more common, but equally dangerous. Two strong skiers, carving well-controlled turns on a wide run, collide when both turn toward each other. Neither is "downhill." Both are "ahead of" each other. Both may be 100% in control, and skiing responsibly, aware of their surroundings and each other. Both may even have earnestly tried to avoid the collision, but since the law fails to define which one has the right of way, it provides no guideline to help make the right decision. You might suggest that skiing side-by-side like that is not being responsible in the first place, and that the "no-passing rule" (of common sense, not law) would have prevented the collision--and you might be right. But even there, both skiers might be trying to move "behind" the other at the same time, colliding even when doing their earnest best to avoid the collision. No help from The Code.
And that, in my opinion, is a real problem. There are situations where The Code, as it is written, is ambiguous. Nautical navigation rules clearly designate the "burdened vessel" in virtually all conceivable cases, giving boaters the information they need to make the necessary decisions to avoid collisions. In skiing, it might be as simple as designating the skier on the left as the "burdened vessel," all else being equal--which would tell the skier on the left side of the run in my scenario above that he is the one who should slow down and move behind, while the skier on the right should continue at current speed. Hard to say--many questions would still remain, largely because, unlike boating, skiers cannot easily (or safely) just stop turning and "maintain course and speed." But I do think that a good rewrite of The Code could help.
It's almost as if The Code was written to intentionally contradict itself. When the skier who fails to look uphill and yield gets hit (as the "skier ahead") by someone coming from uphill, the Code puts both at fault.
What does it mean to be "in control"? As I've long described, there are two things we can control with our skis: direction
, and speed
--but they are in real ways, mutually exclusive. The more you use skis to brake (skid), the less precisely they can control, or change, direction. The more your skis hold their line and carve (control direction), the faster they go on any given line. The more you try to control both direction and speed (with technique), the more you compromise both. (Sidenote: as I described in an earlier post, excellent skiers control direction with technique, and speed with tactics, as a habit, reserving "braking" for those situations where it is safe, or in an emergency.)
How many skiers, clearly responsible for a collision, insist that they were "completely in control"? I usually remind them that they'd better not have been in control, because that would make the collision intentional! But really, many of them really were 100% in control of everything they've ever thought of as control--and indeed, everything the Ski Patrol and resort signs tell them to be in control of. They are in control of their speed
--perhaps skiing fast, but rarely skiing faster than they intended to ski. It is, ironically, often BECAUSE they were in control (of speed--and therefore not direction) that they caused the collision. Two separate times last season, I witnessed collisions that were directly caused by skiers obeying a Patroller's barked orders to "SLOW DOWN!"--hitting their brakes and skidding off their line into another skier. Two times!
This paradox--or "polarity" (to borrow Weems's term)--of speed control vs.
direction control remains one of the least understood and biggest contributors to collisions on the slopes today. You really cannot fault skiers for it, since the "conventional wisdom" of skiing remains that turns are for controlling speed, and since the Responsibility Code, trail signs, Ski Patrol orders, ski school teaching, and virtually every other convention in the industry appear to recognize only speed as the culprit in collisions, and controlling speed as the only solution. This is incredibly unfortunate, because braking is really a dangerously bad habit, because braking is largely incompatible with precise direction control, and ultimately, because with good direction control (and common sense), collisions can be completely avoided. You'll never have a collision, no matter how fast you go, if you never go where another skier is (or will be). But "slowing down" often, at best, simply reduces the speed of the impact--and sometimes actually causes the collision! It disheartens me to see that many patrollers and speed-control employees (the very name is a problem) would rather see a skier making poor skidded turns through a crowd than carving clean turns that--even at low speed--"look" fast because of the degree of inclination and edge angle involved. I can be the slowest skier in a crowd, carving clean turns on a very slow line ("slow line fast"), yet still be the one who draws the attention and order to SLOW DOWN! from a speed controller. All it takes to avoid the issue is to degrade the turn (and thus the control) and let my skis skid on a straighter, faster line. But really, I'd much rather see skiers go where others aren't--at any speed--than collide, even at low speed!
In short, ironically, one of the biggest culprits in collisions is our industry's very obsession with "safety"--based on a misunderstanding that "control" means only "speed control." (This is not to suggest, by the way, that designated "slow skiing areas" are inappropriate. I am completely in favor of designating slow skiing runs where novices can feel safe, without being buzzed by high-speed skiers, even if they are in control. "School Zones" are a good thing. But even there, it's important for everyone to recognize that there are two ways to ski slowly: the "fast line slow"--braking--and the "slow line fast"--turning.)
It's worth noting that there is another Code that is used in many countries: the universal FIS (International Ski Federation) International Rules of Conduct.
Although it covers many of the same points as "Your Responsibility Code," and still is not perfect, it is less ambiguous on some points than our Code and, most importantly, it addresses the reality that control involves both direction ("route") AND speed. Here, complete with cartoons, is one version of it (from the Slovenian Ski Federation):
I particularly like the wording of #3 ("skier coming from behind
must choose his route
in such a way...") and #4 ("A skier may overtake another skier above or below and to the right or to the left provided that he leaves enough space for the overtaken skier to make any voluntary or involuntary movement."). Understanding and heeding these two points would eliminate a great many collisions on our slopes. And understanding #4 would obliterate the insane "she turned in front of me" excuse.