Department

Long Arm of the Law

Police are increasingly patrolling Colorado ski areas. But are they actually making us safer or just destroying the free-wheeling culture of the slopes?

December 2010

It’s a windless morning at Steamboat Ski Resort, and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” pulses through a bright Gondola Square. Shuffling across the slushy snow, skiers line up to board the Steamboat Gondola, but first they must unzip, de-layer, and turn out their pockets. Like travelers at Denver International Airport, these would-be gondola riders must run through a gauntlet of security checkpoints before taking to the skies.

After ticket scanners confirm that skiers’ lift passes are legit, a panel of uniformed police officers pats everyone down and inspects backpacks for contraband such as alcohol. Refuse the search, and that $97 day-ticket becomes null and void. Still, on this bluebird day, one baby boomer flexes his ’60s-honed flower power and bucks the system. “You don’t have any right to search me!” he shouts. Throughout the loading zone, heads swivel toward the lone renegade. The cops try to respond to him in hushed tones. But he won’t be quieted. “You have no right!” he repeats.

But under its permitted lease agreement with the US Forest Service, which grants the resort rights similar to private ownership, Steamboat can legally search its paying customers. After the police explain this, the man decides that resisting the invasion of privacy seems more compelling than skiing slush. He storms out into the sunshine, his skis and head held high.

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