The way skiers and boarders enter the sport determines their behavior on the hill. Years ago, many were introduced to skiing by their parents; skiers who knew the commonsense safety rules and made sure their children knew them, as well. For decades, those entering the sport through ski school have been exposed to the Skier’s Responsibility Code during lessons, their instructors citing examples in real time:

  • Looking up the hill when entering a trail is pointed out each time an instructor takes his or her class onto a new run.
  • Stopping at the edge of a trail and not obstructing traffic is taught by example as instructors always pull to the side when talking to the class.

Unlike driving there’s no requirement for beginning skiers to pass a test before taking to the trail. They simply show up, usually with a friend who attempts to teach them; a friend who may not know the safety basics himself.

Riding the rope. Harriet’s daughter Alison, 5, in leather boots and wooden skis on Jiminy Peak’s rope tow. Credit: Harriet Wallis

There can be serious consequences. Eight years ago at Cranmore Mountain I was struck and seriously injured by a boarder who was uphill from me. As the uphill rider, it was her responsibility to avoid anyone below. She knowingly entered a populated slow-skiing area without slowing down. Had we been in Colorado, she would have been held liable for my injury.

Over my years patrolling at Sunday River, I always pointed out, “If you’re good enough to overtake another skier, you had better be good enough to avoid them.” Skiers have don’t have rearview mirrors or turn signals.  If one turns into your path, it’s up to you to change your path to avoid her. The responsibility code calls this skiing under control.

Source: The New York Times

Another frequent safety violation is skiing closed trails and out-of-bounds terrain. Trails are closed for a reason, and that reason could be hazardous conditions. Years ago, a skier at Loon Mountain fell on an intermediate cross trail and slid under a rope onto a closed steep and icy run. His companions had to work their way through the trees to reach their injured friend. It even was difficult for patrol to reach the injured skier, who eventually died.  The double lesson here: 1.Stay off closed trails. 2.If terrain and conditions between you and the injured skier are beyond your ability, wait for patrol.

Know how to report an accident. The key is to know where you are on the mountain. You can always go to the bottom of a lift, where the accident will be called in. Most areas have a number to call for ski patrol. Make sure it’s in your cell.

Out of bounds is another issue. There is no grooming, and unless your skills are up to handling all conditions, stick to the groomed runs. These areas are not patrolled and not swept at the end of the day. Never ski these areas alone. Three or more is preferred. If someone is in trouble, one can stay with the injured party while the other goes for help.  If you choose to ski out-of-bounds, think of the sign at the top of Killington: The mountains will be just as cold and lonely tonight as they were 200 years ago.

18 Comments

  1. This is my 57th year of skiing and really my first accident, on my 75 th day of skiing this year I was skiing down a wide slope with good conditions the snow was not firm, easy to edge and there was no reason to be tentative (no ice to watch for) I got really hit hard from the rear. The snowboarder who I had no idea was behind me was much too close and moving at high speed, he had no idea what direction I would be turning into and when I turned he was too close to avoid me. I went flying in the air lost my ski and when I hit the ground I knew I was not getting up. After the patrol got me down I went to the hospital ended up with 4 broken ribs and plenty of pain this is now about 6 weeks since the accident the pain from the ribs has gone way down but I still feel like I was hit by a 10-ton truck and started walking 1 to 3 miles a day very slowly so that I do not have to breathe deeply ( I have no idea when I get back to my summer lifestyle of tennis, biking, and lawn mowing) . Luckily I try to stay fairly fit which is VERY IMPORTANT so I feel it will take time but I will be able to resume my lifestyle. When I meet plenty of young people on the lift during the winter I always tell them that fitness is very important so that if you run into an accident or some other health problem your body is strong enough that you can make a comeback and not change your lifestyle . In my 35 years of working, I have seen many coworkers get sick or injured, and when they return they are far from the same person they were before the injury, fitness, and luck can give you a much better chance of resuming all your activities The border did stop and the patrol told me he did ski down but also went to the clinic but I have no idea what his problem was. Next year I am rigging up my helmet with a red flashing light on the back just like you see more and more road bikers using.

    • Cansnowplow says:

      Also, add a biker’s rear-view mirror onto your ski helmet as well as your flashing red light. I have a mirror on my bicycle helmet and love and trust it. I am now thinking of whether switching it over to the ski helmet, but with wearing goggles, the arm holding the mirror are probably not long enough where peripheral sight could be obstructed. I will see if a bicycle accessories maker could create longer mirror arm extending the mirror an inch further out for a skier’s helmet/goggle. Once accustomed to the mirror, which is the size of a Susan B Anthony size coin, you’ll be able to look over your shoulder without turning your head and see the steamroller coming. It will give us a fighting chance with those who Dave Iron’s has witnessed and logic of nowadays’ lack of safety basics. For those who come charging out of the blind woods at 20 mph directly into you or into your immediate path without a sound or a concern for anyone skiing the trail, maybe an electric cattle prod pole!

    • I have been learning about LIDAR which enables automated trailer trucks and fully automated forklifts in warehouses made by Ouster.com
      Someday I am sure Lidar will be incorporated into ski goggles.

    • Tru Briggs says:

      Similar experience with teen boarder, 5 broken ribs and loads of pain. After long recovery, got back on snow but know the feeling of being “hit by a truck”. It informs all the time I now spend on the snow. The rule is simple; it should be emphasized as part of every resort’s publicity effort to sell tickets. The person downhill always has the right of way.

      • 6weeks are up and the ribs feel better but now I have fluid in my lungs and have to take a diuretic for 14 days. Still feel like I was hit by a 10-ton truck. Have been walking very slowly 1 1/2 miles daily up to the most 3 but this rehab is tough. Now is when I usually start some road biking and plenty of singles tennis but the way I feel I have no idea when my activities will start again. My 83rd birthday is coming up soon . I was feeling fine until Feb 21 my 75th day of skiing this year, then hit by a freight train hopefully I can get this behind me.

  2. Sherm White says:

    Unfortunately, snowsport schools and lessons have become more and more of an afterthought for many areas. For those who do, never evers are frequently too absorbed in the first day struggles to really absorb the Responsibility code, even if it is brought up in the lesson. Less and less people take lessons much beyond this level, when there are way more teachable moments. People just don’t learn mountain skills like speed control movements, sideslipping and stepping. More promotion of snowsport school programs beyond the beginning would help. This observation is from someone who has taught skiing for 50 years.

  3. John Gelb says:

    Hi Dave,
    Nice piece, so much has changed since we all learned right?

    Here’s something I learned recently – during my previous 12 years as a ski instructor at Stratton and Butternut: our ski school directors would constantly remind us, during busy weekend morning meetings, “Remember guys, head on a swivel, it’s going to be super busy “.

    What he meant was: ALWAYS be looking right and left, so you know what’s coming up behind you.

    This simple advice has been critical in helping me stay collision-free from too-fast-out-of-control skiers and boarders. And it’s simple: after completing each turn, glance quickly uphill and scan for threats – do it after every turn wherever there are crowds of skiers/boarders.

  4. Just ski faster than the boarders and don’t hog up the whole trail with your turns. Other than that, it’s pure bad luck if you get hit or not. Me, I just ski Cannon, where most jerky type kids on boards are too scared to tackle, esp beginners. If the winds and ice don’t keep them off those slopes, I figure they must be decent skiers.

  5. I’ve been thinking about rear view mirrors for years…but I didn’t think about extensions for goggles…good idea. My old neck isn’t as good at swiveling, but if I’m turning back and forth, I constantly look uphill to see if anyone is gaining on me. Still I get surprised when a bomber I didn’t see goes by, straight down, crouching, legs apart, arms out…you know the one. I saw a while back wrist mounted mirrors for biking. That’s tempting, as would be a pole grip mirror. Invent it and I’ll buy it. It’s getting scarier out there every year.

  6. Howard Trachtenberg says:

    As an octogenarian who has been a patroller for 45 years, I now ski with a great deal more trepidation after being hit by an boarder while standing still at the edge of the trail. Causes for the common lack of attention to the Skier’s Responsibility Code are many, but the failure of many, if not most ski areas to actively promote safety on the hill greatly contributes to the problem. Signage and a few gates are passive efforts that are easily ignored. More active encouragement of safety is necessary.

    The suggestion to ski faster than the boarder who is already going too fast is ill advised. Reckless speed on skis/boards kills on the mountain just as reckless driving kills on the road. Reckless skiing/boarding is not an inherent risk of our sport. Ski areas need to be more accountable.

    • I agree. Steve’s ‘just ski faster’ suggestion is ridiculous. I also agree with and try to always use John Gelb’s head on a swivel suggestion.

  7. I really do not have a solution to this problem. Among the ski instructor corps at Breckenridge, it is our perception there have been a lot more accidents this season than in the past, an impression confirmed to me by a patroller on the lift recently. There seem to also have been a lot more deaths this season, I believe mostly by people hitting trees off the sides of runs. While stats on skier accidents and deaths are compiled by the National Ski Areas Association, these data are held very closely. It is hard to solve a problem until you understand the problem, and it seems to me that pushing hard for release of accident statistics would be a very important first step.

  8. John Bawol says:

    Start making the resorts responsible for not enforcing the rules… pull tickets from skiers/boarders who are reckless…yes, accidents to happen but reckless/out of control people are inexcusable. Making resorts have some “skin in the game” could be life changer for those who get injured

  9. Richard Kavey, MD says:

    Dave,

    Good thoughts about a serious, and probably growing problem. Probably growing because the cabal of area owners won’t divulge the data. A good start would be to force them to – class action lawsuit?

    Rear view camera, helmet mounted flashing lights won’t solve the problem and are frankly ridiculous. Continually swiveling your head while skiing is dangerous and ridiculous.

    I have skied for over 70 years and have never hit anyone and I ski fast. Why? Good judgment. I have been hit by others on several occasions.

    My strategy now is to never ski on weekends or when the area is crowded. This is a luxury not available to many but it works for me at 75.

    Dangerous, reckless skiing, like dangerous reckless driving is a serious hazard and needs to be dealt with seriously.

  10. An excellent summary of the safety mindset at nsaa.org

    Resorts could do more to broadcast these messages in public spaces.

  11. As a forty plus year instructor-skiing and snowboarding-
    Rider responsibility is not just for beginners but every class i lead!
    The best measure for passing slow people I have heard
    Is:
    It doesn’t matter if you think you have given them enough room- if they flinch then you were to close to fast!!!!
    I have found this really Changes how people pass!

  12. David Brennan says:

    Speed “kills” meaning hurts. I don’t take anyone’s skill for granted. I assume there is always a risk so always look left, right, over shoulder…most importantly ski on weekdays.

    Great subject

  13. Excellent piece, Dave. Slope safety is an obsession of mine. For your readers to learn more about skier injuries, check out the work of Dr. Jasper Shealy, aka Dr. Death. I just did a podcast with Jake recently on Realskiers with Jackson Hogen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*