Is It Time To Address Ski Slope Collisions? How?

[Editor Note: This summer, we published a little play about the speeding, out of control skier and what the ski patrol can do about it. You can read it here. Bottom line: It’s not their job, at least, that’s the party line. They are there to maintain the lines, help injured people, sweep the slopes. They are not trained nor prepared to confront unruly or out of line customers who are not complying with the Skier’s Code of Responsibility. What to do? Here’s SeniorsSkiing.com XC editor and publisher of XCSkiResorts.com publisher Roger Lohr’s story about his collision and consequences.]

This year, I was one of the many skiers and riders who got blind-sided and body-slammed by someone on the slopes. After seeing me bounce into the snow a couple of times and violently twist my lower body, the “guy in orange” who plowed into me said nothing and skied away. No apology, no asking if I needed help.

I got up slowly after the collision and immediately thought about how effective my new MIPS helmet worked. Just afterward, I felt shooting pain in my lower back.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the guy in orange about 40 yards away. He had stopped and was looking across the terrain at me while I was taking stock of my bruises and sprains associated with the collision. Then he took off.

I stopped in at the patrollers’ cabin and saw six guys sitting at a table. I requested some kind of heat compress or rub for my pain and was told that they are not allowed to distribute anything like that.

This incident was in fact, the third collision that I’ve had in recent years. What can the industry do to deal with the increasing number of slope collisions?

Can we blame lack of skill in the kind of collision I experienced? It might have been a miscalculation of his line, his ability to change course, his maintenance of too much speed, inattention, an obstruction, etc.

The collision occurred near the bottom of the slope, so was there a chance that I cut him off? Would more patrollers on the slopes talking to people about control, speed, where they stop, and so on, make a difference?

I often ride the chair with patrollers but I don’t remember the last time I heard from a patroller out on the slopes. I can’t say that I’ve seen many of them speaking with skiers and riders about unsafe situations. Would a broad skier/rider education campaign about speed and skiing in control make a difference for safety purposes and curtail the collisions?

As I’ve aged I’ve become much more cautious keeping an eye on the slopes around me. In my collision situation, I was heading to the lift line and did not look up the slope for five seconds on a day when there were very few people skiing. I paid for those seconds with medical bills and three weeks of pain.

The statistics on ski area collisions are mounting and this past spring’s SeniorsSkiing.com reader survey showed a serious concern among site visitors about these incidents. And we all know parents who have freaked out watching their child get steamrolled and mangled on the slopes.  It is not only older skiers who have cause to worry about collisions.

What happened after I was hit was significant. The speedster took off, offering no help and no curiosity as to whether I was injured.

There are seven points in the Skier’s Responsibility Code about staying in control, avoiding others, stopping in places that do not obstruct, and the like. There is no suggestion in the code that there is any responsibility to help a victim or check that the subject who’s been hit is able to ski away after the incident. Yeah, you’d think it was common courtesy for the slammer to apologize and see if aid is required but in my experience and other incidents that I’ve heard about, this is not the case; this is not standard protocol.

I understand the ski area operators’ perspective: no one wants a “patroller policeman” yelling at guests, but can we develop a more robust educational campaign to curtail slope collisions and incorporate a new tenet for courtesy when such incidents occur? Can we amend the Skier’s Responsibility Code to include helping people who are hit?

27 Comments

  1. Roger-

    Reckless skiing and riding are a big problem and something resorts are eventually going to have to respond to. It’s a topic often discussed among my ski buddies.

    Don

  2. Stratton Mountain Ski Area in Vermont has a great Ski Patrol. Many times I have seen them speak to skiers out-of-control or skiing over the tips of other skiers in line. Also, talking with skiers who approach lift lines too fast. I highly recommend Stratton for safety from my experience.

  3. I appreciate Mary’s compliments regarding the Stratton Ski Patrol, but they can’t be everywhere. Last year I was skiing down an uncrowded intermediate slope at Stratton in control at moderate speed when a boarder came out of the woods without any warning and crossed in front of me. He missed me by about 5 feet and surely would have seriously injured me had I been struck. Notwithstanding my screaming at him, he didn’t even turn around and sped away. I think the ski areas have to take systemic actions to prevent this type of behavior. I find resorts such as Stratton where most of the runs don’t have enough pitch to challenge or interest younger skiers or borders suffer the most from irresponsible people going too fast and out of control.

  4. I started skiing in the mid 60s. It was then and is, or should be now, the responsibility of the ski patrol to monitor the slopes and address any dangerous conditions, either environmental or human related. Over the years I’ve witnessed passes being pulled from repeat offenders as should be done. The problem is the NSP has become politically correct and is afraid to have someone challenge them or they are under pressure from ski area not to ruffle anyone’s feathers lest they leave a bad review on Yelp. It’s time for them and the ski areas to return their focus to a safe environment for us to enjoy our sport, for which we pay handsomely.

  5. Ski resort employees make minimum wage and their priority is to end their shift and go home. Why cant some call out and speak to aggressive skiers that can seriously hurt someone . A good pay increase to a “saftey guard “ level might prompt some employees to go fo it. The resorts management has to get off their comfortable chairs and start doing stuff. A nice highly publisied big money lawsuit would be a good start

    • While I think the idea of a “safety guard” is a good one, I don’t think a lawsuit would matter as evidenced by what happened at Stratton in the early ’70’s. A skier injured himself in a fall and sued Stratton for quite a pot of money and the resort simply raised the lift ticket prices (Sunday vs. Stratton). As I remember, the lift tickets went from $11 to $14 the following year, which was a significant increase, percentage wise.

  6. Every skier — and ski resort employee — has the right to “call out” reckless behavior. I can’t even count the times I’ve seen skiers crash through slow-moving lines of beginners in lessons, without any response from instructors. I’ve seen idiots on snowboards launch jumps over ski racks just outside busy lodge doors and over “Slow” banners, while nearby youngsters cheer them on. This issue is existential for the sport of skiing, and it threatens all of us. The Code is worthless if we don’t support it.

  7. Avatar Chic lasser says:

    As a certified instructor and life long skier I have written an article dealing with this problem and a possible solution. I need an email from someone at seniorskiers.com to send it to. If nothing else it might be an interesting read. As a side note, no one in the industry has any desire to publish it.

  8. Avatar Chic lasser says:

    Opps, my email is [email protected].

  9. Several states have passed laws requiring those involved in on-the-slope collisions to exchange information similar to automobile collisions. I believe Vermont has such a law. I know when I was a Stowe Host I enforced that procedure. With today’s ubiquitous cell phones, exchanging info is quite easy. Even if a patroller or host isn’t on the scene, when you’re involved in a collision, you should try to exchange info. And I agree that should be added to the skier/rider responsibility code!

    • Although I live in PA, I ski mostly in Colorado, where there is a state law covering ski area operator and skier responsibility / liability (Ski Safety Act of 1979).
      Under that law, in cases of collision or reckless skiing and boarding the ski area operator has very limited responsibility. (In fact you might reasonably think that the law is designed to protect ski area from endless litigation. Perhaps with such large acreage to patrol there’s an argument for that.)
      The law does define skiers’ responsibilities, but in the end who will enforce it, e.g. in the case where the offender leaves the scene?
      I must say that in most Colorado areas I ski I do see safety patrollers, but they are separate from the professional ski patrollers. These patrollers have the authority to clip lift passes and ultimately remove them, but again its not a legal requirement and they can’t be everywhere.
      The bottom line (printed on your lift pass), is skiers have to assume risks associated with the sport, and you can’t fix stupidity.

  10. Avatar Suzanne M Welch says:

    Two years ago I was knocked out and suffered a concussion as a result of a collision. I only saw a helmet…way too close, then woke up on the side of the hill. It was a very steep hill but I was partly at fault, realizing that I was gaining on the skier in front of me and turned to my left to slow down, just as the other skier (my own sister!) also turned to the left (I had expected her to turn to the right to exit the hill through the snow fence gates. That intersection that has since been changed to a safer configuration. Ski patrol encouraged me to move and let me ski in at my insistence. Ski patrol should not have let me move but once in the lodge, realizing I did not remember anything but seeing a helmet, insisted I go to the ER. My take away is always wear a helmet! My helmet had 6 dents and 2 cracks. First thing I did when I returned home was buy a new one.

  11. For over 30 years, Ski Liberty, Whitetail, and Roundtop Ski resorts in southern Pennsylvania have had a Mountain Safety program comprised of scheduled volunteers who patrol the slopes with Ski Patrol. Their primary role is to make the mountain safe for our guests and do accident investigation when serious injuries occur e.g. in a collision accident. During busy times on weekends they will often be posted at strategic points down the slopes and at the base to talk to guests who appear to be skiing out of control,

  12. Avatar Connie Grodensky says:

    I believe our Ski Patrol at Mt. Bachelor pays a good deal of attention to skiers on the slopes, and not just for accidents. They are always visible, some with their avalanche pups, for assistance or for guidance, and will stop and ask if you are all right when you have stopped for whatever reason. It’s a difficult job with major overcrowding on slopes everywhere, and I give them a lot of credit for the job they do. They cannot be everywhere, and it’s a shame that more accidents do occur regardless of how many patrollers are on duty. I don’t know what the answer is…..

    • Avatar Patty Randall says:

      I totally agree with Connie. I also ski Mt. Bachelor and agree that I see the Ski Patrol all over the mountain. They also have visible signs saying that ski passes may be taken away for speeding. It is the safest mountain I have ever skied and my husband and I moved to and lived at a different ski resort in the west for 5 years — best thing we ever did!!!

      • Avatar Patricia Randall says:

        I forgot to mention that I think Mt. Bachelor is so safe is because the young people here are SOOO polite and they have been raised to be kind, thoughtful, and respectful. The snowboarders on the chairlift even speak to me and not just stare straight ahead with their headsets on. Also, the people here drive slower and within the speed limit.

  13. Avatar Esteban E Sarmiento says:

    Anyone on skis at any one time can loose control. Regardless of who lost control and caused a collision the parties involved should both make sure no one is injured and help each other, including changing information when some one is injured. I skied for nearly 60 yrs and can tell you not all collisions are negative experiences. Not long ago I had the luck of having a very attractive young woman with a very lovely body loose control on a mogul and fall directly on my face. She was very apologetic, rode up the chair lift with me and bought me coffee at the top of the mtn. The rest is history. At my age, such encounters are not usual so I feel blessed. If you share my tastes you need to look for spots where young women (not men) are more likely to loose control and hang there for a while before skiing down. You may still have to ask the ski patrol for balm or a heat compress, but it will be for an entirely more pleasurable reason. Did you entertain the possibility that the skier that collided with you was a shy desperate gay man looking only for some touch???

  14. On our ski club trips, I always emphasize to our members the importance of leaving some vertical distance between you and the person near you. Never ski side by side, even if there is seemingly enough distance between you. That distance can be erased in the blink of an eye if you both turn toward each other. So, let the person next to you get in front of you and maintain a vertical distance.
    Of course, in today’s world, where skiing has become a contact sport in some reckless minds, a simple helmet is just not enough protection. You need to protect your neck, your chest, your knees, arms and legs. Pretty much full body armor.
    The increased danger comes from glorifying speed and jumps, as well as death-defying stunts, especially through ski movies that have become mainly a competition in stupidity, urging young people to risk their lives.
    Ski areas share some of the blame by making their trails straight, super-wide and boring. When the trail is boring, there is nothing interesting to do on it but to speed up to get at least some excitement out of it. Ski trails should be made more interesting, with a variety of fun obstacles all over. Give us something to turn around and practice our turns. And I don’t mean just another race course, which again invites speeding. I mean a whole forest of orange cones (or whisker gates) placed like trees in a forest, so people can choose their own path through the maze. It would give people something interesting to do, it would sharpen our turning skills, and it would slow down traffic. With people spending more time on the slopes, lift lines would be shorter too.

  15. Perhaps a large verdict against a ski area for failing to maintain safe conditions will be the thing to encourage areas to take ction.

  16. Avatar JohnFarley says:

    It is interesting that ski areas say that it is not the patrol’s responsibility to address reckless behavior on the slopes when all of them have releases or wording on the back of the ticket saying out-of-control skiers/boarders can/will lose their tickets. In my experience there is very little attempt to enforce this at most ski areas, yet they claim to. I think some change is needed.

  17. Avatar Hiller Hardie says:

    Message Body:
    Your article surprised me. I’ve skied for 59 years on several continents. Still ski > 45 days per year. Although I have never been a ski patrol, this was the 1st time I every heard that the ski patrol is not to enforce safety. Indeed it is ludicrous. At the very least they need to warn reckless skiers to obey the code. I guess some resorts have a separate group of safety enforcers. However they are in the minority. When I see an issue I advise the culprit of my concerns (I usually have a few friends with me who have my back) and THEN I advise the ski patrol of the issue. I have NEVER been told that this is not their responsibility.

  18. Avatar Jim Stangl says:

    Roger, I’m sorry to hear about your experience with another skier not willing to show at least the common courtesy to stop and see if you were OK after colliding with you. I’d like to think that skiers were responsible, but having watched behavior on slopes and in lift lines now as a returning skier AND the dad of an up-and-coming skier, I know there’s often a responsibility/courtesy deficit. A few observations:

    1) It ought to be drilled into new skiers and boarders to stay in control, always slow down in congested areas, and LOOK both above and below before entering into traffic. Oh, and let others on the chairlift know which way you’re going when you get off!

    2) Perhaps the Skiers’ Code needs to be updated to have something about stopping to render basic aid or assistance to a downed skier/boarder. I don’t mean advanced first aid, just going over to see if they’re OK or hurt, need ski patrol, or just need some help getting back into their bindings and on their way. One thing I always try to do to when skiing with my daughter is to stop and help someone who looks like they’re having equipment problems or are just in need of some friendly reassurance. And if they’re injured, at least you can call for SP and stay with them if they’re alone.

    3) I realize that SP can’t be everywhere all the time, especially on big mountains, but the notion that their job isn’t to enforce safety rules when they do see infractions is ridiculous. I also think that resorts need to cite or call out skiers/boarders who are flagrantly getting drunk or stoned in lift lines (yes, seen it at my home mountain). Sorry, but if you want to drink or toke, do it after riding, don’t turn yourself into an impaired meat missile.

    4) I’ll put in another plug for Mt. Bachelor–they try to keep things safe and fun. Their ski school instructors are also tops.

    • As a volunteer ski patroller, who may have been at the dinner party, I need to interject, that our primary responsibility on the mountain is first aid and safety. We will ALWAYS stop and reprimand anyone acting irresponsibly, however, we cannot be everywhere and believe me, we wish we could, but we could use everyone’s help. Our mountain does not have a safety patrol so that leaves us doing double duty.
      I would hate to be unavailable for your torn ACL or compound tub/fib because we were pulling someone’s ticket for speeding.
      It’s difficult Thank you

  19. Oh have times have changed. As a kid in the 70’s it seemed to me that the ski patrols main job was to destroy the jumps my friends and I would make on the sides of trails. They frowned on our “ hot dog” antics. As for today’s patrols , I suspect lawyers have as much as anything to do with this new attitude.. that said , I saw a “safety” patroller yank a snowboarders ticket at Northstar a few years ago.
    The advice I would give anyone is what my father told me ; always know who is behind you. Before I set out on any crowded slope, I look at who is coming up . Are they old, young, boarders or skiers? After years of skiing you develop a sixth sense . If it’s a bunch of kids on snowboards , I always wait and let them go ahead. If I find myself coming into traffic, I “ pull over” to the side until it thins out. Lastly, I do not wear headphones or earphones-it’s imperative that you can hear what’s going on behind you.. ive been skiing for 50 years now and have never been hit- close calls ? Yes. Had my skis skied over? Yes , but no collisions so far -knock on wood..

  20. Avatar Henry Schwarzberg says:

    I recall an incident in which I was resting, skis pointing to the trail edge less than 3 feet away. Just as I was about to get going again, I skier sped by me, not behind me, but in front. Had I moved a fraction of second earlier, there would have been a terrible collision. The skier did not stop nor say anything. What can one say in the face of such recklessness?

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