Seems that way to me. In the past few weeks, at least ten people have died in accidents at North American ski resorts:
Sad news, indeed.
Yet while one death is way too many, the National Ski Areas Association says ski fatalities are actually pretty rare: as low as one for every one million visitors to a ski resort. (It’s also noted that more men are victims of skiing accident deaths than women).
Despite this, many on TheSkiDiva forum believe that resort skiing has become increasingly dangerous. Sure, this is anecdotal. But given the crowds we’ve been seeing this year, stories of near misses, collisions, and risky behavior are all too common. And while I don’t have data on this, it seems like it’s a situation that’s getting increasingly worse.
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 cheap season passes have 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. 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 suggestions, from members of the forum
• Limit ticket sales: There’s no question that crowded slopes are more dangerous slopes, so something needs to be done to prevent overcrowding. . Require skiers 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 can you do to improve your own safety?
• Wear a helmet. This can reduce can reduce the risk of sustaining a head injury by as much as 29 to 56%.
• Make sure your bindings have the proper DIN setting for your size and ability.
• Always look uphill before you take off, and always be aware of your surroundings.
• Give the downhill skier the right of way.
• Always ski in control.
• Don’t ski alone in the trees or in the backcountry.
• Avoid tree wells.
Stay safe out there, everyone.