I couldnâ€™t help but shake my head in amazement and roll my eyes in bewilderment as I read yesterdayâ€™s article in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, relating to the incident with Roland Flack on Saturday at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. I was even more blown away when I saw the words handcuffs, arrested and extricatedâ€¦all for merely skinning up the resort.
For those that havenâ€™t read or heard about the recent debacle, here is a brief summary:
Valley resident and backcountry skiing guru Roland Fleck, 78 years old, was skinning up JHMR on Saturday to get in some exercise and watch his granddaughter ski race on the Nastar course near the Casper Chair. During his climb, he was confronted by ski patrol, informed of the JHMR policy of â€œno uphill trafficâ€ and asked to leave. When he refused, in a sign of peace from JHMR he was offered a free ski lift pass in order to be able to watch his granddaughter ski. He refused this offer as well and continued uphill, skinning over ski patrollers skis in the process. Later, Teton County Sheriffâ€™s deputies were transported to the race course to further inform Fleck of the resort’s policy and after more of what has been described as â€œbelligerent behaviorâ€, Roland was then handcuffed, placed in a toboggan, removed from the resort and placed in jail for some time. (Read the entire article in the JHNG here, as well as â€œmy takeâ€ below.) When asked about the altercation, JHMR officials had the following response.
â€œUphill travel during hours of operation is a safety hazard which is outlined in our operational policy, approved by the United States Forest Service. This incident occurred on a busy Saturday morning. In addition to asking Dr. Fleck to stop, JHMR also offered Dr. Fleck a complimentary pass to be able to access the portion of the mountain he was aiming for. He declined the offer and did not comply with the numerous requests to stop climbing. Our actions were in the best interests of our all our guests.â€
As a backcountry skier, I can see the absurdity of the whole situation. For one, itâ€™s pretty crazy in general that someone can end up in jail for just skinning. Skiing isnâ€™t a crime and JHMR is on United States National Forest Service land. However, the land is leased by the JHMR, which kind of makes it thereâ€™s (temporarily) and a â€œno uphill travelâ€ rule is outlined in JHMRâ€™s operational policy, which is approved by the USFS and is common knowledge of local skiers, nevermind a past investor of the resort and pioneer of skiing in the Tetonâ€™s.
It doesnâ€™t surprise (or bother) me that JHMR doesnâ€™t want people skinning up the resort (before, during or after hours), from both a safety and revenue standpoint. I think an uphill skier presents a danger to downhill skiers and other paying customers. Uphill skiers use the resortâ€™s parking facilities, its groomed terrain and may need assistance from resort personal in an emergency. JHMR has the right to protect their investment from those that might skin up past the lower, ticket checking lifts and then ride the upper mountain where tickets arenâ€™t checkedâ€¦all without paying. Although some resorts throughout the west do allow uphill skinning, I donâ€™t think that this should just be the accepted policy at all ski areas, since they are all different.
Though Iâ€™m not buds with Roland, I know him as the old Austrian guy who uses old-school equipment and loves to talk about the old days. Like many, I admire Roland for his achievements and ability to still be backcountry skiing at the age of 78. I can only pray that I am doing what he does at that age. I am also familiar with Rolandâ€™s colorful personality and I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d be lying if I said that his strong Austrian heritage shows in his demeanor. I can only imagine the commentary between Roland and the patrollers that were involved. I heard there is a video, but itâ€™s unlikely we will ever see any of it.
It will be interesting to see what comes of this matter, but my guess is this is the last we will hear of it and the resort will decide to not press charges and Rolandâ€™s lawyerâ€™s will advise him to focus his energy on other thingsâ€¦like continuing to ski when he is 80. Itâ€™s easy to get mad at the goliath JHMR and biggest employer in the valley, but I think they were just doing what they had to in this situation. I donâ€™t think patrol would have made a big deal about it if it was before operating hours, but to be skinning up the trail in the middle of a busy, 5,500 skier weekend day?