Is Resort Skiing Getting More Dangerous?

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 02/12/19 •  7 min read

If you’re like the Alliance for Skier and Snowboarder Responsibility in Summit County, you may believe it is. The recently formed group got some press for hosting a discussion on safety on the slopes, which it sees as a growing concern. The founders believe their group is the first one made up of skiers and riders taking responsibility for creating a safer environment, rather than resorts.

Yet according to a study commissioned by the National Ski Areas Association, skiing and snowboarding have an excellent safety record, and are less dangerous than other high-energy participation sports. And the accident rate is not going up. Here are some excerpts:

…Skiers and snowboarders suffer an average of 49 catastrophic injuries (paralysis, broken neck and back, and life-altering severe head injury) per season, according to the 10 years of data collected by the NSAA from 2005/2006 through 2015/2016. During the 2015/16 season, there were 45 catastrophic injuries, below the 10-year average, but above the 42 catastrophic injuries reported in 2014/15 season. Based on 52.8 million skier visits last season, the rate of catastrophic injury in the 2015/16 season was 0.85 catastrophic injuries per one million skier/snowboarder visits, which is very near the 10-year average of 0.87 catastrophic injuries per one million skier visits. Skiers accounted for 62 percent of these catastrophic injuries, while snowboarders accounted for 38 percent of the incidents…

Collisions with another person, as a percent of all accidents, have not changed significantly over time, according to Dr. Shealy’s 10-Year Injury Study. Collisions with fixed objects (trees, lift towers, signage, fences, snowmaking equipment, etc), however, are on the decline. Roughly 7 percent of all incidents involve collisions with another person, and this rate has generally held steady since 1980. Collisions with fixed objects, however, have dropped from a high of 7.2 percent of all incidents in 1990 to 4.5 percent of all incidents in the 2010/11 ski season.

Despite this, however, many on the Ski Diva forum believe that resort skiing is indeed becoming more dangerous.

Sure, this is anecdotal. But stories of near misses, collisions, and risky behavior abound. I’m lucky enough to ski weekdays when it’s not crowded, but the few times I’ve been out on weekends and holidays, I was alarmed by the number of near-collisions I witnessed; even had a few close calls myself. Lately it seems we hear about resort fatalities on a regular basis. I’ve heard of three already this week, and I have no doubt there are others out there, too. And President’s Week, with its bigger crowds  — at least here in New England — is still days away.

What’s the cause? Some on the forum say the slopes are becoming more crowded, particularly because of multi-resort passes or the ability of high-speed chairs to get more people up the hill faster. Some believe the problem is caused by ski movies and social media glorifying risky, extreme behavior, treating it as though it’s part of the norm. Some say skiers and riders are distracted by music, texting, and selfies. And some feel that equipment has evolved to the point where a lot of people are skiing beyond their abilities.

Here are a few of the comments posted by forum members

• I’ve been quitting earlier and earlier these days because I’m concerned that someone is going to hit me. It’s not fun when the slopes are crowded with hotshots or folks who are skiing beyond their abilities. I’ve had too many close calls this season, and just thinking about them, as I’m sitting here on the couch, makes me nervous and hesitant to go out again. We try to avoid weekends when we can but sometimes that’s all we have available with our busy schedules.

• As someone who can only ski on weekends, it does seem that the mountains are more crowded and people just aren’t being mindful of those around them. I was at Tremblant one Saturday and saw the patrol taking someone off in a stretcher three different times. I’ve also noticed many near collisions and even had a few incidents where someone got way too close while trying to pass me. In two cases they whizzed right over the tips of my skis causing me to lose my balance. Neither fall was particularly bad but they could have been easily avoided.

• I don’t know if it’s more dangerous or not. I just know that my local mountain’s effort to sell cheap season passes and becoming part of the Mountain Collective has resulted in extremely dangerous slopes on busy days, primarily Saturdays. Way too many people I know getting hurt by being hit by others. In my opinion, the way the terrain parks are laid out where I ski adds greatly to the kamikaze attitude, ineptitude, and general disregard for anyone else on the mountain. The parks are spread out all over the mountain, and the park riders use all the terrain in between said parks as one giant park, which includes the second busiest choke point on the mountain. I am sad to say that all I hear are excuses. I’m pretty over it. The perspective definitely changes when you have a child out there.

• I quit skiing at our local bump because of the crowds and out of control skiers. This year they decided to sell a $99 night-time only pass. It’s been a zoo. I was working with a friend on the long beginner run when an out of control kid scared the sh*t out of her, causing her to fall and break her wrist. I was done after that, because next time it could have been me.

• I’ve been hit hard enough to be knocked out of my bindings (ski patrol did not pull the person’s pass even though he had been straight lining down the mountain while I stood stopped in plain view at the bottom of the mountain along with a good crowd of other skiers), had a snowboarder plow entirely over the back of my skis while we were both moving along at a good clip down a run this last trip (I didn’t fall, but it was too close for me), and decided I was never skiing Breckinridge again after a boarder blasting out of the trees at head height in front of me almost clipped my helmet because he launched himself into the air with no visibility of the actual run (one of several incidents). Breckinridge scared us both when we last skied there 4 years ago. And Heavenly doesn’t seem to be any better.

Whether resort skiing is indeed more dangerous or not, there’s no question that ski safety is an important issue that needs to be addressed. So what can be done?

Here are a few suggestion, again from members of the forum

• Limit ticket sales: Require the skier to go online and reserve their spots at least 24 hours in advance. This might help reduce overcrowding.

• Require everyone who buys a pass to to go through an interactive safety presentation. Make this mandatory for those under the age of 18 who are skiing unaccompanied; give everyone else $10. off or special lift access for completing the training.

• Hold people accountable and do not tolerate any unsafe behavior. This requires special policing from resort personnel. In Mammoth, patrollers take photos of violators’ passes. Any guest who gets a second offense for speeding (and any employee who gets a first offense) must go through the “Ride Another Day” program in order to get their pass turned back on. That program is a short film (followed by a questionnaire) about a five-year-old girl who was killed by a snowboarder in Montana. The snowboarder also perished in the incident, and it was reported that he was going approximately 50 miles per hour when he collided with the young girl.

• Better regulate/police alcohol and marijuana use. Many on the forum believe that the mix of skiing or riding with alcohol and/or weed, particularly among minors, causes a lot of alarming behavior. No one should be allowed to ski or ride under the influence.

• If you see something, say something. Let resort personnel know when you see unsafe behavior, and make it clear that this is something you will not tolerate. The more we make our feelings known about this, the better.

What do you think?




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