Safety Is Up To All Of Us.

[Editor Note: Dave Irons contributed this article on skiing safety which first appeared in the Lewiston Sun Journal. Dave is a veteran ski journalist and ski patroller. is collecting stories from readers about incidents and accidents that they have experienced. We intend to review these for patterns and themes and use that data to influence the safety policies of resorts and other stakeholders. ]

Each ski season the issue of safety comes up. Some years it’s a fatality at one of our ski areas. It might be a famous person, like Sonny Bono who died while tree skiing at Heavenly Valley on the California/Nevada line.  One year it was a couple of teenagers who left the trail at Sunday River and had to be rescued at night.  Whatever the trigger we all need to be reminded at times of the need for safety while skiing.  I remember years ago when I walked into Tom Reynolds classroom at UMF.  On the board was the saying, “If it is to be, it’s up to me”.

That pretty much describes safety on the ski slopes.  How often have we heard someone say about a particular situation, “There oughta be a law!”?   You might be surprised to know that there are some laws when it comes to skier safety.  Mostly we are not restricted in our skiing, but there are certain activities that are limited, most not by law but by ski area policy. One example is skiing too fast in an area posted, “SLOW SKIING”.  Skiing fast in an area set aside for beginners or approaching lifts can bring about a warning from the ski patrol. It will usually be nothing but a warning. Some ski patrols will mark the lift ticket either with a marker or by punching a hole in the ticket.  Stopped by a second patroller who spots the mark will result in loss of ticket.

But that’s not law.  When are skiers likely to be subject to law?  Unlike on the highway, there are no radar guns on the ski slopes, but if there is a collision and injury, the law can be involved.  The Colorado Skier Safety Law states clearly, “The person higher on the hill has the responsibility to avoid people below and if something happens that skier or boarder is at fault”.  Notice that there is no mention of the ski area being responsible.  As a ski patrolman, I used to sum it up this way, “If you are good enough to overtake another skier, you should be good enough to avoid them.”

We often hear, “He cut me off” from skiers who hit someone while passing them.  I would make the point that the skier downhill from us cannot be expected to look up the hill before making a turn, especially if that downhill skier is a lower level skier.  The better skier has to be aware that he is sharing the slopes with skiers of all ability levels. And we should all know the Colorado law.  It may not be the law in Maine, but we can be sure it will cited by an attorney representing a skier who has been hit from above.    

This should be all we need to know about avoiding collisions on the hill. Add the common sense parts of the Skiers’ Code Of Responsibility such as slowing down and looking up hill when entering a trail intersection, looking uphill before entering a trail and always stopping on the edge of the trail.

The next area is skiing closed trails and out of bounds. I can tell from years of experience that no ski patroller wants to close a trail.  If it’s closed it’s because the ski patrol judged it to be unsafe.  Also, no ski patroller wants to have to explain to management why they closed a trail if it was skiable.  I would also point out that if any of those skiers who patrolled for me felt uncomfortable on a run, you probably don’t want to ski it, and the average skier certainly doesn’t belong on it. Trails are closed for our safety. Stick to the runs that are open. And to those that are within your ability. 

Out of bounds is another issue.  This is not to be confused with skiing in glades within the area, but this skiing also calls for special precautions.  Sonny Bono lost his life within bounds, but he was skiing alone in the trees. We don’t know if he died instantly or if he might have lived had rescuers reached him quickly. His body was found the next morning. Never ski in the trees alone. It should be a group of three or more, one to stay with the injured skier while another goes for help.  Cellphones help, but if you don’t know where you are on the mountain it can still be a long time before rescue. 

Leaving the ski area boundaries is taking an extreme risk, not only to the skier, but to those who will be involved in the rescue.  If you survive a problem even if it’s no more than getting lost and having to be led out, this can involve the law. In these cases it’s not uncommon for a number of services to be involved such as warden services and police. For this you could receive a bill, and it could be quite large. Just figure the hourly pay for dozens of searchers for a full night, along with the equipment. Do you know what it costs an hour to keep a helicopter in the air? The next time you consider skiing out of bounds remember this sign at the top of Killington, “The mountains will be just as cold and lonely tonight as they were 200 years ago”. 


  1. Dr. Gretchen Rous Besser says:

    Kudos to Dave for bringing this important message to all of us, and kudos to SeniorsSkiing for posting it here.

  2. A good message. Years ago accident accountability and punishment for drunk driving were not very harsh. Seriously hurting someone was not strongly pursued. Today drunk driving and injuring someone carries harsh prison sentences.

    Sking accidents today are where the antiquated drunk driving category was years ago. No serious punishment for almost killing someone, no strong enforcement of the rules, no penalties for drunk or drug skiing which is quite popular. Hopefully in 20 years skiing will be much safer and the skier that just put a little 9 year old in a hospital will be doing jail time.

  3. Richard Kavey says:

    Reckless skiers or boarders colliding with the downhill skiers are a menace and the collision an assault. It is my observation that only professional ski patrols will police out of control skiers: National Ski Patrol (amateur) refuse to do this. It would be informative to see if areas with pro patrols have a lower collision rate than those with pro patrols. I tried to get data to publish a study on this a few years ago. Surprise! ski areas refused to release the data.

  4. In response to Richard, ski areas set the policy in these matters and ski patrols pro or volunteer simply carry them out. I would not use the term amateur as nearly all ski patrols require the same qualifications for paid or volunteer members. While a majority of ski patrols are affiliated with National Ski Patrol and meet their qualifications national does not set policies for ski areas in these matters. Except for very small ski areas almost all ski areas have at least a core of pros some supplemented with volunteers. Dave Irons

  5. Your remarks are sincerely appreciated, as you are an experienced, knowledgeable, long time ski expert and Hall of Famer from Maine.

    Without being disrespectful I would also observe that you are a ‘Ski Industry Insider”. And your remarks while accurate, are also largely reflecting the mantra & interests of the ski industry, and not the patrons nor the Seniors Skiing constituents. The Code is definitely necessary for Ski Safety, however in today’s age it is stale & enormously insufficient. To reflect mainly elements from the code at this point of advancement of the ski industry, is marginally relevant.

    I would respectfully suggest that the readers of Senior Skiers, are not people likely to go out of bounds, ski closed trails, ‘rear end’ others or exercise other behaviors indicated by your remarks. Rather they are victims of other patron’s discourtesy and recklessness.

    Ski Industry Insiders; journalists, managers, owners and figures have a stake in the success of the industry. They are therefore remiss to be critical of the ski industry, or even infer some un-performed duties. I have personal experience with journalists and insiders that bow out of making comment because they “need to sustain access”, or “remain able to speak with the industry, and stay in their good graces“.

    Editor: please lets have some respect for our Seniors, we are not fools.

  6. Safety Patrol says:

    I spent three years on a volunteer safety patrol. 5% of my time was spent providing directions, 25% reporting and assisting with accidents, and most of the rest of time as speed police. The more time we spent skiing the mountain the more effective we were.

    Unfortunately an executive decided we would be of more value in the lift lines keeping people calm with the long waits so they took away lift line privileges and turned us into smozers. The value proposition for putting VISIBLE people on the mountain is strong. It’s like state troopers on an interstate. They will ski slower, safer and more conscientious of surroundings. Message to ski resorts is load your mountain with patrol and the results will be obvious. (Change your policy Snowshoe)

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