The March Community Forum
Skier & Snowboarder Safety
presented by Our Future Summit,
Keystone Center for Science and Public Policy
March 9, 2006
Johanna Raquet of the Keystone Center served as moderator for the panel. Johanna posed three questions for the panel.
What about skier safety concerns you the most?
What concerns about safety would you like addressed?
Do you have any solutions?
The panelists included:
Nick Logan, associate director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center;
Seth Blackmer, board member of the Snowboard Outreach Society;
Chuck Tolton, director of mountain operations at Keystone Resort;
Jim Moss, JD, editor of the Outdoor Recreation Law Review; and
David Gray, MD, an emergency room physician and operator of High Altitude Mobile Physicians
Prior to the panel discussion, Chuck Tolton screened a video presentation prepared by Vail Resorts to educate resort visitors about several issues concerning skier safety. He commented after the video that between laws, posted information, slow ski areas and pass revocation; ski areas are committed to improving skier and rider safety.
Nick Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Center remarked about the growing numbers of skiers, boarders, hikers and ATV riders were venturing into the back country. Summit County attracts people from regions of the country unfamiliar with the nature and stability of snowpacks in our area. People with athletic skills often still need mountaineering skills. The Avalanche Center focuses on education and forecasting. While not discouraging backcountry use, it promotes safe and sane practices.
Seth Blackmer of the Snowboard Outreach Society agreed that education is primary to instructing people to ski and ride safely. He stressed that SOS emphasizes the skier responsibility code and teaches their students to be aware of safety procedures. He feels one challenge is to improve education without diminishing a snowrider’s experience on the slopes.
Attorney Jim Moss shared a list of observations with the panel. He asked if people whose outdoor activities required search and rescue operations should bear the cost of those operations. He noted that while sales of backcountry equipment, including avalanche beacons, have seen a huge growth ,the number of winter sports enthusiasts enrolled in avalanche safety courses has not.. Jim also remarked that while large numbers of college students were taking outdoor recreation courses, their personal preferences involve extreme activities of short duration rather than multiple day backpacking experiences of previous generations. While he agreed the need for more education, he recommended that the community needed to become more involved in consumer safety education rather than relying exclusively on resorts.
Dr. David Gray, an emergency room physician who chose to practice house call medicine in Summit County described how altitude influences personal health and safety. He has treated over 1500 cases of altitude sickness and 17 cases of pulmonary edema in his five winter seasons here. All but one of these cases required transport to a lower elevation. Education is essential to inform visitors about the effect that altitude changes may have on their health, without scaring them away from the high country.
Chuck Tolton of Keystone Resort agreed that education and awareness were central to safety and responsible behavior. He believes that the pace at which people conduct their normal lives is symptomatic of safety issues. People are seemingly so focused on getting the most out of their time outdoors that they forget to pay attention to the signs , safety information, changing conditions and those around them. Chuck reiterated that the ski resorts are doing a good job improving safety during a time when skier visits are growing dramatically. There are more people out on the mountain focused on skier safety than there has ever been before. Summit County is a model for cooperation between ski resorts, law enforcement and community.
Regarding helmets, Chuck recommends that skiers and riders need to understand the limitations and benefits of helmet use and make an informed decision realizing that helmets lose their effectiveness at higher speeds. Some helmet wearers ski faster believing they are safer. A good policy is to ski with a helmet as if you were not wearing one.
The audience was then asked to pose questions to the panelists.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor announced that his office has initiated a rapid response team in cases of avalanches. In Summit County, the goal is to have a chopper on the scene of an avalanche within 20 minutes with emergency personnel and a canine unit aboard. Minor also emphasized the zero tolerance policy among local law enforcement for skier responsibility code violators.
Sandy Greenhut asked what ski areas can do about accidents that the ski patrol does not witness. Chuck Tolton answered that Keystone’s policy is to try to identify any skier or border that causes a collision. The more information witnesses can provide the better chance of locating the involved parties.
Howard Hallman wanted to know if increasing skier numbers are making the slopes more dangerous. Chuck Tolton said that the numbers are not in for this year, which should be one of the busiest ever, but safety is improving. He cited greater enforcement activity combined with and less tolerance for irresponsible behavior, as part of the message that the industry is serious. Tolton also felt that better education, a greater number of slow skiing and family areas as well as increased safety patrols all are contributing to a safer resort environment. The proposed legislation that would increase fines for violations or the four fineable elements of the skier safety act from its original 1979 level of $300 to $1000 would help increase awareness.
Don Parsons asked the panel if it was possible to identify certain situations that increase the probability of collisions. Tolton answered that funding for “slopewatch” programs at Keystone has been increased by $100,000 over the previous year. Personnel were being trained to caution people skiing/boarding faster than the prevailing rate. Offenders are being stopped and their names added to a database. Repeat offenders run the risk of losing their lift privileges or being banned for life from a ski resort.
Parsons also asked if the growth of terrain parks fueled high risk behavior outside the park. Jim Moss observed that it was human nature to take risks and learn from them. Seth Blackmer commented that the parks channeled the activity into an organized and well designed area making mountains safer overall. Chuck Tolton said that Keystone provides a separate area to keep risk-taking skiers and riders into their own part of the mountain. David Gray remarked that the injury rate in the parks has been minimal.
Several members of the audience wanted to know how to improve the awareness and education of young riders who are often inconsiderate. One suggestion was to publish the statistics of pulled tickets as a deterrent. Blackmer added that SOS teaches core values of everyday life to its snowboard students. They are required to pass a written test on the skier responsibility code.
Additional topics discussed were:
· How to improve education for backcountry skiers who exit at ski area gates.
· Local residents should be mindful of health risks upon their return to the altitude after extended stays at sea level.
· How safety is affected as more technical equipment and high risk activities are introduced.
Sandy Briggs proposed that a crime stoppers program be instituted to encourage witnesses to a hit and run incident on the slopes to report reckless behavior, be more conscious about accident details for ski patrol or police responders and to identify people who leave the scene of an accident.
Such a program may serve as a deterrent because riders and skiers who behave recklessly will be aware they are being watched and reported.
Sheriff Minor commented that a Crime Stoppers program was already in effect, with $19,000 in the reward fund.
Howard Hallman closed the evening with several questions for the audience to consider: 1. Where should back country education take place (as it is not a ski resort responsibility)? 2. Should there be an authority responsible for monitoring backcountry access? 3. Has the rate of serious accidents increased?
The forum was adjourned at 9:00 PM
Moderator Johanna Raquet
Sheriff John Minor makes his point
Skier safety panel
Howard Hallman asks the panel his questions
Seth Blackmer explains how SOS works
This audience has is concerned about safety
Chuck Tolton of Keystone
fields most of the questions.
Sandy Briggs wants to reward skiers for
the ski patrol catch violators
Comments and questions can be directed to:
Howard Hallman, PO Box 209, Frisco, CO 80443
970-468-9134 or email@example.com