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Don’t let drowsy driving spoil your holiday ski outing

By Phil Johnson
Friday, December 13, 2013

This is a time when we often think back on special holiday memories. Most are warm and wonderful.

Here is one that is not so good. But even after years, it is vivid to me. I’ve told the story before, but it is worth sharing again.

Christmas Day skiing for years was a father-son tradition in my family. Most areas are open and it is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise before a late-day family gathering. But like all outdoor activities that include driving, you need to be especially careful coming home from the ski hill. I speak from experience.

One Christmas afternoon years ago, I was driving south on I-87 when I drifted off the road, and ended up clipping a guard rail, collapsing the left front wheel well, and disabling the car. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but my son and I spent two hours being towed off the highway and waiting to be picked up and driven home. What a way to spend the holiday!

Now, I could claim it was bad weather that day. But no. It had been sunny and the road was dry and clear. I could blame it on too much holiday cheer. But no. I went from the slopes to the lodge for my gear, then straight to the car for the drive home.

What happened?

Drowsy driving!

Drowsy driving is getting a lot more recognition these days. In its latest full year data, the New York Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee reported that in 2012 where a human factor could be determined, 2.5 percent of all crashes were due to either “falling asleep” or a
“fatigued/drowsy” operator. That amounted to 4,773 accidents over the year in just our state, 28 of them fatal. Those are much larger numbers than crashes attributed to cell phone use, or texting.

The major causes for drowsy driving, according to the committee, were “too little sleep” or "too many hours behind the wheel.”

But I think there are other factors involved in drowsy driver accidents and that makes skiers coming home from a day on the slopes partic­ularly vulnerable.

Consider my accident. I had slept well the night before, I had been on the road just 40 minutes and the strongest beverage I had that day was hot chocolate.

Here is what I think happened. When skiing, you are outdoors anywhere from three to six hours. Chances are you are dressed for the weather, but nonetheless, it is cold. Then it is time to drive home in a car that has been sitting in an outdoor parking lot all day. You turn on the ignition and blast the heater. Now you are on the road. It is late in the afternoon, and at this time of year, the light begins to fade. If you were lucky and it was a perfect, cloudless day, chances are you are heading home into the sunset.

Maybe you begin to squint.

You get the picture.

I was lucky. While the left front end of the car was chewed up pretty badly, there were no injuries. In fact, the air bags didn’t go off. But I learned a lesson about drowsy driving that day.

The most important thing is to always stop about halfway on the trip home. Even if I am feeling alert, I get out of the car and walk around for a minute or more. If I feel tired on the remainder of the trip, I stop again, no matter how close to home I am.

I always try to ski with at least one other person traveling with me and we switch seats if the driver starts to feel tired. Then there is hot drink, the open window and the “crank up the sound system” approach. All help. I even made my own collection of tunes so I could get just the music I wanted for the trip.

But, it is the rest stop that is the most important, even if you think you are feeling fine. Just pull off the road, walk around the car; give your head and shoulders a shake and then resume your trip.
Nothing beats a good day on the slopes in winter. Nothing, except a safe trip home!

Open House


West Mountain in Queensbury is working hard to get the attention of area skiers and riders once again and this Saturday will be the first chance you’ll have to see what the new operators have done. West will host its first day of the season with an Open House from 6-11 p.m. with hours d’ouvres, hot chocolate and Santa in the base lodge. There will also be live music. For those who want to hit the slopes, West will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with four-hour tickets priced at $25.

Sliding in Front


The best sliders on the planet will be in Lake Placid for the World Cup this weekend, and Americans are on a roll to start out this Olympics winter.

First of all, defending Olympic four-man bobsled gold medalist Steve Holcomb is undefeated in four World Cup Starts so far this season. He won both sliding events last weekend at Park City Utah. The U.S. team also swept the podium in the women’s event, taking the top three places.

Then, Noelle Pickus-Pace won the women’s skeleton event. There was good news from luge, too, with Saranac Lake’s Chris Mazdzer capturing a silver medal at Vancouver. The World Cup competition at Mt. VanHoevenberg begins today and goes through Sunday. Admission is $16 for adults, $10 for juniors and seniors (over 65).

Miller Time


If you haven’t seen “Ticket to Ride”, the 2013 Warren Miller film, you have another chance to catch all the twists and turns on Dec. 27 at Tannery Pond Community Center in North Creek. And you will be supporting a good cause, as proceeds go Adirondack Treks Inc, a local outing club for kids.

This is the 64th annual Warren Miller film and, although the 92-yea- old Miller, who started all this from a parking lot at Sun Valley, Idaho in 1946, isn’t involved anymore, a Warren Miller film remains a winter rite of passage.

The North Creek showing starts at 8 p.m. Ticket discounts are available Christmas week at restaurants throughout the village.

 

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