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During the second annual Ski California Safety Day, some 15 resorts in California and Nevada held a slew of events to promote on-slope safety.

Avy dog demos were a big hit at Sierra-at-Tahoe. Credit: SkiCalifornia

On the last Saturday in January, slope safety was in the air at more than a dozen ski resorts from the Sierra Nevada range in the north to the San Bernardino mountains in the south. The occasion was the second annual Ski California Safety Day, during which Ski California, the state’s ski industry trade organization, premiered its fourth ski safety video and participating resorts held a wide range of fun and fascinating demonstrations and events to promote safety on the slopes.

According to statistics gathered by the National Ski Area Association, the 42 fatalities reported in the US during the 2018/2019 wintersports season accounted for one fatality per one million skier/snowboarder visits; the 31 reported catastrophic injuries accounted for 0.52 such injuries per one million visits. So the odds of a skier or snowboarder being killed or seriously injured on the slopes is one or 0.5 in a million, yet that is little solace for those who were injured or for the families of those who died. Surprisingly the majority of these deaths and injuries were not the result of avalanches but rather males under the age of 30 skiing or snowboarding on intermediate terrain and having collisions with other people, trees, or stationary objects, or falls on the snow surface. So on-slope safety awareness is key to making skiing and snowboarding safer for all.

NSAA is promoting three actions for skiers/boarders to keep in the forefront of their minds when they hit the slopes: 1) Always be ready and in control so you can slow down or avoid objects at any time; 2) Always be alert to what is going on around you, from other skiers to snow conditions; and 3) Plan ahead, including looking uphill when you merge onto a larger slope from a trail, being aware of blind spots, scoping out a run slowly the first time you ski or board it, and giving other skiers/boarders a wide berth. Advice to skiers and boarders is all well and good but resorts believe that leaving safety awareness to individual skiers and boarders is not enough. There is now a concerted effort underway among California and Nevada ski resorts and the Ski California association to greatly reduce these statistics, and Ski California Safety Day is a vital part of that effort.

Resorts are going an extra step, holding events where they have captive audiences that will hear the safety messages loud and clear and retain what they hear. Says Michael Reitzell, president of Ski California since 2015, “Over seven million people ski and snowboard in California and Nevada annually. While the risk of serious injury remains extremely low, we are proactive about educating wintersports participants about the importance of safety. If we can prevent just one serious injury, our extra efforts are worth it.”

A couple of ski areas came up with quite ingenious ideas to promote safety on the slopes. Kirkwood Mountain Resort, for instance, cranked up its “Bars for Bars Down” program: anyone using a chairlift restraint bar at the proper time on the resort’s Timber Creek beginner chair was handed a candy bar when getting off the chairlift. At the top of Chair 2, ski patrollers enticed people getting off the lift with hot dogs so they’d stick around and listen to an avalanche awareness talk given by the Sierra Avalanche Center and get the chance to pet some “avy dogs.” Mammoth Mountain came up with “Know the Zone,” painting a few big circles in the snow, each with a 15-foot radius and a mannequin in the middle, beneath the Broadway Express Chair, its busiest chair, to help chairlift riders visualize the optimum distance skiers and boarders should leave between each other on the slopes.

Boreal/Woodward Tahoe hosted a “Helmets Are Cool” event during which participants could decorate their helmets with various stickers and view a “Helmets Are Cool” video. Homewood Mountain Resort also focused on helmets, offering free helmet rentals all day. The resort also had ski patrollers and instructors on hand, along with Ruckus, the avy dog, at five interactive stations at the base area during the lunch hour, talking about a wide range of safety topics.

Heavenly Mountain Resort went all out with terrain park safety clinics, avalanche dog demonstrations, avalanche beacon park and backcountry preparedness beacon hunts, various ingenious raffles, and a “Helmet Head” photo booth where folks could post on social media photos of themselves wearing helmets.

Sierra-at-Tahoe had a great turnout at its avalanche dog demonstration, during which the resort’s ski patrollers talked about avalanche danger and how the dogs are trained. This was followed by a ski patroller actually being buried in the snow and “rescued” by one of the avy dogs. The patrollers also demonstrated the various safety devices available today, from beacons and whistles to AvaLungs and airbags. Northstar California followed suit with its own avalanche/rescue dog demonstration and also emulated Kirkwood with its own “Bars for Bars Down” event on selected chairlifts .

Sugar Bowl hosted an on-slope Scavenger Hunt and a poster contest for kids aged 12 and under. Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows set up safety booths, held a raffle, and had a meet-and-greet with the ski areas’ patrol dogs. Tahoe Donner held a few demos on slope safety, and Diamond Peak offered a behind-the-scenes tour of its Village Terrain Park that included discussion of its construction, safety, maintenance, and boarder etiquette. Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe treated its guests to an “On-mountain Safety Poker Run” and free hot chocolate or coffee for anyone who reviewed the skiers’ Responsibility Code at its welcome booth.

In the Southland, Big Bear Mountain Resort went the Hollywood producer route, hosting an on-mountain Instagram story contest, in which participants had to create an Instagram story highlighting five safety items and tagging their creations with a series of hash tags. China Peak gave visitors a chance to accompany the ski patrol on its rounds, and Snow Valley Mountain Resort offered a free lift ticket to anyone who purchased a helmet at the resort’s sports shop on the 25th.

Mike Reitzell sums it all up, saying about safety, “You can never do enough for ski resort guests. We are committed to a consistent and constant effort to increase safety awareness. The resorts are all in this together; we’re not competing with each other [in this area]. As an industry, safety is at the forefront. We ultimately want to say to skiers and boarders: Come skiing; we have the safeguards in place.”

Ski Patrollers explain safety rules to kids at Sierra-at-Tahoe Safety Day. Credit: SkiCalifornia

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