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Ski Resorts Celebrate National Safety Awareness Week While Keeping Patrons in the Dark About Safety Plans
Date:1/16/2009

Ski Resorts Emphasize Personal Responsibility Rather Than Their Own

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Jan. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- With this Saturday marking the start of National Safety Awareness Week (Jan. 17 - Jan. 23) by the U.S. ski industry, skiers and snowboarders may notice more safety monitors than usual on California ski slopes. These "safety-conscious" employees will be noticeably present this busy Martin Luther King holiday weekend to remind visitors to watch their speed and refrain from recklessness. The ski industry uses this week to showcase the priority it places on maintaining an injury-free, snow-sport environment; however, the irony is that the onus for ski safety rests entirely on resort guests. The California ski industry acknowledges no legal responsibility or accountability for patron safety and has established no consistent industry-wide standards and best practices for signage, hazard and traffic management.

"Under their lease agreements, ski resorts operating on federal lands, which constitute the majority of ski resorts in California, are required by the U.S. Forest Service to have an annual and updated ski safety plan in place," said Dan Gregorie, M.D., president and founder of the California Ski and Snowboard Safety Organization (CSSSO), which advocates for standardized safety measures. Dr. Gregorie cautions, "While the Forest Service has contractual authority to enforce safety improvements on land leased by ski resorts, the agency takes a hands-off approach to regulating ski safety, leaving the resorts to vary widely in their plans, policies and procedures as well as documented compliance with them."

According to CSSSO, resorts are not mandated to produce standardized safety plans or required to make their plans readily available for public view. To gain access to a safety plan from a resort on federal land, an individual must request it through the Freedom of Information Act, which is difficult to navigate. The response time for a request can be months and the individual must pay a fee, which could be hefty, depending on the information requested.

"If ski resorts expect patrons to be personally responsible and assume liability for any accidents, consumers should have relevant and accurate information on the risks they are assuming and ski resort accident prevention plans," added Dr. Gregorie.

Typically, ski resorts' safety plans include varying degrees of detail. There also appears to be few, if any, internal safety plan compliance programs, reporting requirements or external review processes in California, other than the requirement to report ski lift injuries and fatalities to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) provides annual death and serious injury reporting but the information is limited and unreliable for these reasons:

  • Data is only collected from NSAA member ski resorts and is inconsistent and formatted in such a way as to preclude meaningful analysis.
  • Deaths occurring outside member ski resort boundaries (e.g., patrons who accidentally or deliberately leave the resort boundaries or who die in hospitals after being evacuated from the resort) are not included in the reports.
  • The NSAA rigorously guards its accident and injury data. While limited information is available on the NSAA Web site, public access to more detailed studies (demographics, economic analysis, end-of-season survey) are available only through payment of fees ranging from $100 to $400.
  • California ski resorts have significant latitude as to when, how and whether safety and accident prevention procedures and methods are employed.
  • The NSAA does not release raw data for independent analysis or disclose the details of the collection process or the criteria used for categorization.

The NSAA was quick to tout on its Web site recently that in the 2007/2008 ski season, the overall usage of helmets among skiers and snowboarders was up from 40 percent last season and 25 percent in 2002/2003. However, no states have any ski helmet usage laws and the NSAA does not advocate mandatory helmet usage or helmet rental availability for resort guests.

The resorts also do not regularly implement effective speed controls even though new equipment and snow grooming technologies enable patrons to speed down crowded slopes as fast as cars on the highways. While the California Department of Motor Vehicles requires drivers to pass tests to demonstrate their understanding of the consistent signage used on our nation's roads, signage on California ski slopes varies widely from resort to resort.

The California Ski and Snowboard Safety Organization (CSSSO) is a non-profit California corporation based in San Francisco. CSSSO promotes and supports safety improvements in California skiing, snowboarding and recreational snow sports and serves as an independent, factual public resource regarding the safety of California ski resorts. Visit www.calskisafety.org.


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SOURCE California Ski and Snowboard Safety Organization
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