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SPECIAL REPORT: 'High on the Slopes', the rules and regulations of pot use at ski resorts

(KKCO)
Published: Feb. 22, 2016 at 5:29 PM MST
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When you think of Colorado, you think of the beautiful mountains, the ski slopes and fresh powder. However, that’s not all. Since the legalization of marijuana, pot may also come to mind when some think about our state, but how has the legalization of pot effected the ski industry?

Being high on the slopes has stereotypically been a part of 'riding' for decades. Since the legalization of marijuana, many feel the tourism of this new industry is bringing more people to also visit the beautiful ski resorts.

“I think it kind of goes hand in hand,” explained Elizabeth Keksi, who has been snowboarding for years.

For some riders, while it’s risky, it's all part of a day on the mountain.

"I used to get high all the time and go snowboarding,” explained on snowboarder, who says he doesn’t use marijuana anymore. “I do think it’s dangerous, but it’s also a good time.”

The legalization of marijuana has opened the door to unexplored territory in many industries. It has brought in millions of dollars in revenue to the state of Colorado, and even more people to our state. Many of those tourists also hit the slopes.

The ski industry is tackling the issue, and letting riders and boarders know it's not all part of the 'Rocky Mountain High' experience.

"What they can expect is the usual family-friendly atmosphere that we are known for,” explained Jennifer Rudolph with the Colorado Ski Industry. “But they should not expect to be able to light up at a ski resort.”

Marijuana is legal for adults in Colorado, however that does not make it a free pass to light up anywhere. Ski resorts are one of the many places where pot, is off limits.

"The law clearly states that smoking marijuana is illegal to do in public, and there isn't any place at a ski resort that isn't public,” Rudolph explains.

What many don't know, is despite state laws, more than 99% of the ski-able acreage in Colorado is on federal, U.S. National Forest lands. This means the federal laws still apply, and pot use is illegal.

"Even if you find that 1% of ski-able acreage that is not on federal land, it is still considered part of a ski resort which is again, a public place," Rudolph said.

Policies and monitoring substance abuse on the slopes begins with the a resort’s ski patrol.

“We are there to educate and inform people as well as help them as they need,” explained Rondo Buecheler, with the Powderhorn Mountain Ski Patrol.

The Colorado Ski Industry says ski patrol is the first layer in keeping a ski resort running safely.

“If they see someone who is breaking any rule or any law, whether it be smoking pot or breaking another rule,” explained Rudolph, “they would deal with that individual as they would any other rule breaker."

Powderhorn Mountain Resort says they have not seen a change in substance abuse on the slopes since the legalization of marijuana. However, they will bust offenders if they have to, in order to keep the mountain safe.

"We are always looking out for the safety of our customers, and employees,” Buecheler said. “So we treat any impaired customer as the way any responsible business would, by contacting the appropriate law enforcement agency as necessary."

This means that a resort’s local Sheriff's Office or the National Forest Service would then be called to take further action, if needed.

"We try really hard to not get to that point,” Rudolph said, in regards to calling in law enforcement. “We really want to work on the education efforts first, so that people don't get themselves in trouble."

It’s that trouble, which has those who have hit the slopes while high saying it is not worth the risks.

"It’s just not a good idea to mix those two,” explained a snowboarder who has hit the slopes impaired. “It’s similar to drinking and driving. You can’t turn as well."

Others are on the other side of the fence about the growing topic.

"I don't think it's a safety concern,”Keksi said. “I don't really think it’s that dangerous. I think there is a huge stigma against it but it’s not a big deal."

Nonetheless, ski resorts say the safety of their customers is their number one concern.

"Skier safety is of utmost importance,” Buecheler said. “Go slow, watch for others, especially children. We recommend helmets for every guest. And always respect all of the guests up here and just enjoy yourself."

The Colorado Ski Safety Act states that it is illegal to ski or snowboard while under the influence of a controlled substance or even board a lift.

Aspen's home county approved the legalization of marijuana by a margin of more than 3 to 1, and more than two-thirds of voters also approved marijuana in the home county of Colorado’s largest ski resort, Vail. Eight in 10 voters in the home county of Telluride Ski Resort favored marijuana legalization as well.