Ski resorts in Nevada and California say that they are plenty prepared for stoners on the slopes because, frankly, it’s not a new problem.
“It really shouldn’t change much of anything. Legalizing marijuana is not an invitation to come to the ski resort and smoke marijuana,” said Michael Reitzell, spokesman for California Ski Industry Association. “For some reason, people think outdoors sports are different than other sports. Would you smoke pot and play basketball or any other sport where you could really injure yourself if you weren’t sharp?
“You can take breaks, you can hang out, and maybe it has something to do with après-ski. It can wait.”
Tens of thousands of people are expected to enjoy the powder in the peaks this winter, the first ski season where both Silver State and Golden State dispensaries will have recreational marijuana on their shelves. While most California ski towns will not have recreational marijuana on the state’s kickoff sales date, Jan. 1, dispensaries in nearby Reno — just 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe — have been selling product since July.
Dispensaries in the Bay Area, where many Tahoe visitors hail from, are expected to begin sales in January.
“I will definitely say that marijuana culture and snowboard culture have a lot of common friends. It’s the enjoyment of the outdoors, but sometimes it’s just that type of person,” said Eli Scislowicz, director of operations for Nuleaf, the only Tahoe-area dispensary currently selling recreational marijuana. “People that love the outdoors, they are sometimes more free-thinking, more spiritual,”
Despite the changes in state law and visitors’ increasing access to pot, resorts have changed little about their policies for toking on the mountain.
“As far as taking increased steps and actively educating people, no, we haven’t really done that. We have a bar on sight, but we don’t actively go out and tell people don’t go skiing if you’ve had this many drinks. You’re responsible for your own actions,” said Mike Pierce, spokesman for Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe.
Resorts are expecting that a few tourists might try to light up on the lifts or at the lodges this season, but a quick lesson from staff in what’s allowed on-site will likely take care of any such problem, Pierce said. Resort staff also are expected to stop serving alcohol to anyone who is visibly intoxicated, and likewise stop anyone on the mountain who is visibly impaired and could be a danger to themselves or others.
“It’s extremely rare. It’s way off the spectrum to see those people,” Pierce said.
In both Nevada and California, marijuana consumption is only acceptable at a private residence, so Tahoe locals and visitors can only use cannabis at home or at a residence where the owner has approved consumption. Additionally, because most ski resorts in the nation are at least partially on federal land, and marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, smoking on the slopes is doubly illegal.
Not to mention, since none of the California-side Tahoe dispensaries will have recreational marijuana available until late spring, early summer, most people who are interested in purchasing recreational product in the area will have to hop over the border to Nevada — and it’s illegal to ship product over state lines.
For the alpine enthusiasts who don’t follow the rules, they won’t be squeezing money out of the resorts if they do get hurt on the mountain.
Most ski resorts require patrons to sign liability contracts because of the dangerous nature of mountain sports, and the language likely won’t change in those documents. Staff may have to look for the distinct signs that someone is under the influence of cannabis, but finding someone high on the slopes would not be a first.
“Anyone that’s tending to an injury of a guest, they’re certainly going to have to be cognizant of whether someone is under the influence, but we’ve always had to look for that,” said Reitzell.
It is more complicated to prove that someone is under the influence of marijuana because drug testing can only prove whether a person consumed marijuana, but not whether it is still active in someone’s system.
Employment practices are not likely to change either, Reitzell said, especially since drug testing can’t determine whether someone is high. Many resorts don’t currently drug test upon hiring anyhow since most of the jobs are seasonal.
“The only time we truly drug test is if there’s an injury or there’s damage,” said Pierce, of Mt. Rose.
While resorts are always eager for more visitors, they don’t expect legalization to draw any more of them since mountain states such as Colorado, Washington and Oregon already legalized pot. Ski-friendly states, in fact, are becoming a dime-a-dozen.
“It’s not such a big deal anymore,” Reitzell said. “Although, I hope no one is holding their breath for Utah.”