It’s Time To Update The Responsibility Code.

Whoops.

Many senior snow sports enthusiasts have been participating in the sport for decades, in some cases, starting as children or high school or college students. Each year, they return to the ski hills, older, less strong, less stamina, but still dedicated to the sport they love.

They come back despite the concern that most senior skiers share: Getting hit and injured by another skier/boarder.

In late spring 2019, SeniorsSkiing.com conducted its annual survey of readers. Among other topics, we asked what most aggravated them about their on-slope experience.

About half reported they experienced a variety of near-misses, injuries, or dangerous behavior of others. A subsequent SeniorsSkiing.com article reported on the writer being blind-sided by another skier who left the scene. This prompted additional comments from other readers expressing dismay and anger about being involved in similar incidents.

Sensing a need for our readers to express their views about these on-hill collisions and near-misses, we launched “Incidents And Accidents”, a series of personal reports from readers in an attempt to further understand and communicate what was happening. We asked readers to report what occurred and what lessons they learned from the experience.

The combination of comments to Incidents And Accidents and the open-ended responses to the survey formed a clear picture of what seniors saw happening on ski slopes that made them cautious, apprehensive, angry, and even frightened about the sport they’ve been engaged in for so many years.

Their observations can be grouped into three categories:

1) Skiers/boarders skiing out of control or too fast for conditions or their skill level,

2) Reckless and rude skiers/boarders distracted, stoned, intoxicated, or not paying attention, and

3) Skiers/boarders not following proper rules of conduct, ignoring trail etiquette, violating right-of-way protocols, and/or not warning about passing.

Too much speed, lack of attention, and non-compliance with standard on-slope protocols are the dangers. These behaviors result in actual or potential accidents and collisions, leaving senior skiers annoyed and disappointed in how their sport is conducted.

Readers report a) being hit from behind sometimes with serious, long-term injuries; b) being passed too close by a speeding skiers/boarders; c) reckless emergence from side trails or trail junctions, and, perhaps most unsettling, d) being knocked down and the other party not remaining at the scene.

As a result, senior skiers devised their own self-protection tactics, adapting their on-snow experience to better deal with potential injury.

Our readers report adopting a number of self-protection tactics. These include a) avoiding crowds or crowded days; b) staying away from beginner areas; c) maintaining a predictable rhythm of turns; d) vigilantly monitoring surroundings and uphill activity, and e) remaining with friends. Basically, they are skiing defensively at all times, some to the point of being ultra, self-consciously cautious on the slopes.

They have also prescribed actions to take if there is a collision, namely, get an ID from the other party, taking a picture of both the ID and the other’s face with a Smartphone, and report the incident to ski patrol and the resort. If circumstances warrant, call 911 or the police, especially if there are serious injuries involved.

That our senior readers—long time veterans of the sport—have generated their own rules and guidelines for dealing with out-of-control skiers/boarders is telling. While they have learned to adapt, they have done so in the absence of more proactive efforts by ski resorts to curb out of control behaviors.

Skiing/boarding without fear of getting hit wouldn’t be such an issue if resorts stepped up to their responsibility to keep all customers safe.

When we asked our readers for advice on what ski resorts can do to better control danger on the slopes, their solutions were insightful. Rather than put the task of enforcing rules squarely on Ski Patrol whose primary function is rescue and trail management, readers recommend ski resorts create a new role of “Safety Guard” who can be visibly monitoring critical hot spots. Safety Guards can pull tickets, track violators, and bring offenders into “time out”. The resort can establish a system where repeat offenders are barred. Resorts can also visually post the number of tickets pulled in a day. Some resorts already use these tactics. For example, Vail is a pioneer in posting and enforcing ski safe rules.

While enforcement and monitoring is critical to making a safe skiing/boarding policy stick, there is an important role for greater awareness and education. Our readers state that resorts should invest in posting the Responsibility Code more prominently. They also recommend displaying the Code and the ski patrol’s hot line number on lifts, in restaurants, and on runs.

Where do new skiers/boarders learn the Responsibility Code? In lessons where instructors can explain the Code and interpret situations in real time so students can learn to identify what to do.

Finally, to make all these provisions work, ski resorts need to design and implement a safety process. To take the role of monitoring and enforcement seriously, the resort needs to collect incident reports in a consistent and timely manner, analyze the data collected, report it to customers, and use that data to inform policy and decisions.

Recommendations To Ski Area Operators and The Ski Industry: Update The Responsibility Code

At this writing, Vail Ski Resort, CO, has a model program that other resorts can learn from. Its Mountain Safety Program includes a comprehensive list of activities. Education, enforcement, monitoring are keystones. Slow zones and high traffic areas get special attention. Tickets are lifted and daily enforcement results are posted for all to see. At Vail, on-hill safety is a managed priority.

It would be ideal if other resorts copied or adopted a Vail-like program. It wouldn’t take much for resort management to create a new role of Safety Manager who can implement new monitoring and enforcement procedures, perhaps adding responsibilities to an existing position. Also, the national snow sport organizations can help with a set of suggested ideas for the position of Safety Manager with a job description and on-snow deployment techniques and interactions with staff and guests

Right now, resorts have a wide-ranging and inconsistent set of initiatives—and attitudes—when it comes to programs like this. Industry guidance would be helpful in creating consistency and momentum, but that’s not going to happen next season.

So we ask ski resort management and the ski industry to take a small, simple step that will bring attention to on-slope safety and may actually help invigorate awareness of the problem.

Our readers have told us they see an opportunity to update the Responsibility Code, the ski industry’s only guidelines for on-snow safety that hasn’t substantively changed since it was created in the mid-1970s.

SeniorsSkiing.com believes there should be a new provision to “Stay On The Scene” in case of an accident as well as “Provide or Call Help For A Downed Skier/Boarder”. While we’re at it, why not review the other rules and bring them up to date.

These are common sense additions that can help prevent bad situations from becoming worse. Adding these to an updated Code is doable, reasonable, and non-controversial.

It’s up to the ski industry and resort management to decide how to address the on-slope safety issue for everyone, not just seniors. Resorts can consider naming a Safety Manager, enlisting Safety Guard volunteers, and creating awareness with signage and messaging.  Those steps require leadership, commitment, and investment. They are also low cost, high impact.

And, right now, the ski industry can update the Responsibility Code, one simple step that can be done easily, signaling a broad-based effort to curtail unsafe behavior on the hill.

Let’s start there.

 

27 Comments

  1. Avatar Tamsin Venn says:

    Great article, great suggestions, especially shifting responsibility away from ski patrol. Re. illustration of this article. You’ve got two women on the ground, and the guy flying upright. How about reversing those situations?!

  2. Great article., I see most resorts doing nothing. Its not in there culture . Just like “we just make cigarettes , we are not responsible for people smoking them “was 40 years ago. With no penalty things don’t change. A rating system needs to be established for resort safety from 1 to 10 and visible for the entire public. A few years having a rating of 2 will start executives thinking more about protecting their customers. Why not start one here?

  3. Avatar John Schultz says:

    An unmentioned but enormous contributing factor is the economic need for ski resorts to “optimize skier density” but up enough high-speed lifts to achieve the desired number of “skiers per acre hour” (different numbers for green, blue, black terrain.) I don’t have a solution to suggest but it seems clear that this situation has to be part of any serious discussion of skier safety.

  4. Avatar John Midyette says:

    While I would say that your comments about Vail Resorts safety program are not off base, I have found their efforts to be limited. I am currently 75 yo, two years ago while skiing at Keystone I was blindsided by a younger (teen?) snowboarder, he was a decent young man and stayed with me; I ended up with three broken ribs and my collar bone with three breaks. The upshot of this was a long q & a with a ski patroller who seemed more concerned that I was hearing impaired (certainly no more than wearing ear buds) than he was about the snowboarder riding at a high rate of speed while not watching where he was going. It almost seemed that he was attempting to find a way to go easy on the snowboarder.
    Additionally while Vail has eased the burden on Ski Patrol by implementation of a safety patrol (yellow jackets) they are far too few and spend the majority of their time standing around telling people to slow down. Also, at Keystone at least, they seem to be limited to the front of Dercum Mtn instead of being spread across the entire resort. They represent a beginning; but, there is much room for improvement.
    Is it possible that the resorts do not want to “take away the fun” for younger skiers/riders. Perhaps we seniors need to make our economic impact more visible.

  5. I think it might be worth noting that ski and snowboarding media—magazines, websites, etc.—can play a role in education about safety. At the same time, they can also—either intentionally or without realizing they are doing it—create the impression that skiing/boarding are all about taking greater and greater risks. When one sees imagery of skiers/boarders tackling extreme terrain, jumping off cliffs, etc., one might start to aspire to such behavior. I have NO problem with people doing this as long as they have the skills, and are risking ONLY themselves. But, all too often, I see younger skiers trying to do more extreme stuff both without the skills and without any awareness that others are around them. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve seen a skier/boarder cut off to the side of a trail to ride some jump, then shoot back into the trail (possibly airborne) right amongst other skiers/boarders. I cannot help but thing that the whole notion of “go big or go home” which seems prevalent in the industry, and is conveyed by its media, is a factor in influencing this behavior.

  6. Avatar Bob Cully says:

    All of my accidents have involved snow boarders going too fast and out of control. I am now an 80 year old skier. Avoiding crowds can help but open slopes encourage higher speeds. Thanks for your efforts to improve slope safety. I would like to keep skiing but current conditions are often discouraging.

  7. Avatar Sue Trent says:

    Here’s my updated responsibility code. I’ve attempted to make each element brief enough to be posted on a lift tower.

    1. People ahead of you have the right of way.
    2. SLOW DOWN to pass! Pass WIDE!
    3. Look uphill before starting after a stop.
    4. Look uphill before entering an intersection or merging.
    5. Stop on the side, not in the middle of the trail.
    6. Do not stop where you can’t be seen by oncoming skiers.
    7. Be thoughtful of others on the trail. Be CIVIL.
    8. You could cause a life-changing accident. Don’t!

  8. I have been following these articles for some time and applaud the spirt and ideas to get something done. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about its success.
    We are dealing with people who just don’t care. The concerns stated in these articles are no different than those expressed by cyclists, runners, pedestrians, kayakers, sailboaters, etc.
    I don’t think you have to look any further than today’s news to see this, whether its groups of people on a beach ignoring the impact of their actions or others heading to their vacation homes for sanctuary because stay at home does not apply to them. It’s all about “me” and “me” crosses all economic, social and age groups.
    I do believe there are some suggestions where we could succeed in getting something done. Requiring resorts to publish skier accidents would be a powerful step. Industry (OSHA) uses this approach, they require contractors to report their safety records. Let the consumer decide how important the issue of accidents are. I would wager more than seniors will pay attention to these numbers.
    Appreciate you folks getting this topic on the table, the most important first step is talking about it.

  9. Agree with it all. My wife and I, mid-70’s, will only ski during the week. Too many close call or near misses to feel comfortable. This is especially hard early in the season when there are a limited number of slopes and trails open. It is up to the areas to upgrade this policy and they shouldn’t burden the ski patrol with enforcement.

  10. These are all great suggestions, but they will remain just suggestions. Vail and all the other resorts are only about the bottom line and at the present that is to get as many skiers on the slopes as possible. Until their bottom line is affected by either skiers leaving because it’s too dangerous or because injured skiers sue the pants off the resort……until that happens, there will be no change. In fact it will probably get worse before any action is taken. As of now……all you can do is watch out.

  11. Avatar Suzanne Welch says:

    Ski resorts should accurately report numbers of accidents, serious injuries and deaths and causes. I don’t know how to get more honestly in their reports so the public can see where danger is higher. I was at a large eastern resort in December and a skier in my club group died from a brain bleed 3 days after being hit by another skier. I know her death was not reported in their count, perhaps because she seemed ok when taken off the hill. I don’t know how to get accurate reporting accomplished but I feel it would go a long ways toward improving overall safety if resorts were held more accountable.

  12. Avatar Fred J Munro says:

    A lot of countries in Europe have Police Officers skiing around. As much as I hate to say this …. Perhaps we in the US need to think about something along those lines. Some not all of the younger generation only seem to think of themselves. Sorry to say until that changes not much else will on the slope either…..

  13. Young speedsters (mostly 15-30 males) need the older guys and gals to “school ” them on their “response” ability. Meaning slow down the speed when emerging from a black run to a blue/green or keep your distance and not using other skiers as marker poles.

    I have found most guys receptive and polite (sorry) when I have spoken up or challenged them in the lift line. Awareness education is the key, just like us seniors all had to learn how to re-cycle, the young guns have to taught how to ski/board with social responsibility.

  14. Avatar cansnowplow says:

    With the price of a lift ticket today, and the legal viciousness of our “sue me, sue you blues” court system and legal expenses, nobody is going to want to wait around or share their vitals info with the other party(ies). Instead the involved who has the lesser damage is going to skidaddle away; ” hit and run,” preferably undetected. The industry will have to create for the resort employee a handheld wi-fi type phone device which can read an RFID lift ticket “chip” slope side in order to ID the aggressor and slap them with a resort punishment of deactivating that lift ticket. This would be done without having to have a search warrant and police. The resort employee would be necessary to deactivate a concealed RFID pocketed pass, as an aggressor will not reveal a lift ticket pass to anyone, just say they don’t have one. The agent should have the ability to deactivate a particular person’s RFID while right on the scene. This concept of having a “volunteer safety patrol” is mind boggling. It is one thing to have a ski patrol rescuing an injured person. It is a whole other expectation of volunteering to be a private cop. If our society is coming to this, then, why not just go backcountry and earn your turns. Of course, this means no more groomed trails. Groomed trails are the root of this problem, as it allows fast speeds and doing so without having to think, as almost every hazard has been eliminated by the grooming. The only variable hazard on a groomed trail is other people. When I was a young skier, the trails only became groomed by the end of the day with all the skier traffic. The ungroomed snow was the natural brakes everyone now wants to impose on groomed trails.

  15. Avatar Rich Spritz says:

    I don’t have a solution, but I do have a broader perspective than just the anecdotes mentioned above.

    On-snow collisions is a topic stressed at almost every morning instructor meeting at Breckenridge, as it is one of the major causes of lost employee work hours at Vail Resorts. Is the number of on-snow collisions per skier-day increasing? I suspect not. The problem is, any collision can have enduring major consequences for those involved. And we older skiers are daily reminded by our ever-increasing aches and pains that we are neither immortal nor invulnerable.

    The first 4 elements of the Colorado Skier Responsibility Code are specifically aimed at reducing collisions. Furthermore, all elements in the Skier Responsibility Code have force of law behind them, under the Colorado Ski Safety Act (Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 33, Article 44; July 1, 2006). I go through the Code every day that I teach, at every level, emphasizing to my students that, unlike in Pirates of the Caribbean, the Skier Responsibility Code isn’t just “guidelines”, it’s the law.

    That said, I have virtually never done a not-in-uniform instructor training course when some yahoo doesn’t come flying right through the instructor group standing on the edge of the run, as out of harm’s way as we thought possible. Perhaps an equal mix of skiers and boarders, it’s always a 20-30 year-old male. Unfortunately, I doubt you can legislate away testosterone-induced idiocy.

    Overall, I think that our “Yellow Jackets” and ski patrollers do a great job. If there were more of them, would there be fewer accidents? Maybe. But I almost never see ultra-stupid behavior while I’m in uniform. Everbody slows down when a police cruiser pulls in behind. Do you really want a hyper-regulated environment with Yellow Jackets watching your every move, pulling ski passes willy-nilly? I suspect not. Do none of us ever do something stupid? I know not. A big part of what we all love about skiing is the feeling of freedom, to go where we like and fly like a bird. The goal is to balance freedom and responsibility.

    Every year, in my annual VR Employee Engagement Survey, I suggest that we emulate Japan, where the Skier Responsibility Code is printed in multiple languages on every piece of toilet paper.

    • I like your Japan Code printing story! I’m concerned that (as you have likely observed) the Safety Record for ski employees does not improve over the years. Even more concerned that knowledge of the Ski Industry being the 5th WORST of over 1,000 OSHA industry groupings is virtually unknown. Ask in the next line up how many know THAT. Suggest some currently employed ski instructors do the research: US BLS OSHA data is published every year in the fall.

  16. Vail in 2019/2020 seems to have largely done away with its touted enforcement protocol. The “Wall of Shame” at Gondola One which used to announce the number of tickets pulled, etc. from irresponsible skiers was gone. And the yellow jackets were scarce. I was told that mgmt. had told a group of locals that they did not want to look like a “police state”.

  17. Avatar Charles Falchetti says:

    Ski areas should offer free beginner ski lessons & perhaps free safe ski/snowboard instruction to all who request. Perhaps an incentive like a discount lunch voucher to all who take advantage to encourage this training who at least make people aware of the safety issues in skiing.

  18. I agree, but with some clarifications.
    1. Stop NEAR the edge of the trail, but leave a little room for those skiing the edge.
    2. Speed doesn’t necessarily = out of control. I’m 73, but on groomers I’m going to ski very fast. I know from much experience that I can stop in 10 ft. My ticket shouldn’t be in jeopardy for this.
    3. When passing a slower traverser, it’s tempting to just zoom past their tails, but they often turn unexpectedly. Instead, mimic their traverse, then drop below immediately after they turn.

  19. As lifelong skiers now in our 80’s my wife and I second what has been said about the nature of the safety problem and the impact that fear of it has had on our enjoyment of our favorite sport. We ski almost exclusively at Whistler/Blakcomb. If new owner Vail Resorts is doing anything special on safety we have not seen it. Having area safety records published and readily available to the public could be a powerful tool but how can areas be motivated to do so? Are there area licensing authorities that might require it?

  20. Pardon me if someone has already posted this but I believe that the ski schools should be more prudent about not only teaching ski technique but also ski etiguette. Kids will be kids but all it takes is a simple “on your left or on your heelside” type of jester instead of blowing by you like you aren’t even there. I have had many thanks from older or less talented riders who
    hear me warn them that I am going past them. skiers and boarders need to show more respect for one another. Some good manners goes along ways.

  21. I admire the quality of thought both in the Editorial and from the nearly two dozen members adding their comments. Change is needed for the industry as we know and love to endure and provide patrons with good experiences. I like the notion of a CODE update. I’m concerned that unless a client subset like Seniors Skiing can present itself as a CONSTITUENCY that matters to the business, that we will receive a ‘polite dismissal’ I suggest some Action Plan be developed to generate a significant impact to the Ski Business.

  22. Avatar Pat Parker says:

    Wow! Thank you for this insightful information. Last year while skiing at Taos I was hit from behind by a snow boarder who came out of no where. Luckily for me she had caught some air so her board hit me in my thigh and buttock. And not in my knees. She was a 20 years old beginner and from Alabama. My husband saw the accident and immediately called ski patrol who pulled her ticket for 2 days. Several of her friends hung around and shook their heads in disbelief. For me my bruises were with me at least 60 days. I have been skiing for 55 years.

  23. Avatar Geoff Prescott says:

    Wow, what an amazing response to this article. Clearly this is a subject of major interest to senior skiers. I am fortunate to ski at Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. We have our share of inconsiderate yahoos, but overall things are pretty okay. I find the survival skills I learned riding motorcycles to be very useful on the slopes. I work at being aware of my surroundings and always try to get a “read” on other skiers/boarders. In my experience, the people to watch out for are groups of young male snowboarders who blaze down the slopes showing off for each other while ignoring everyone else.

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