Re: the "Mountains of Risk" series by The Denver Post's Karen Crummy, run in the SDN last week and responses from Sheriff John Minor and Thomas Ide of Silverthorne:
This was no "hack piece," as Ide implied. Crummy tackled a very difficult assignment looking into an industry that employs a wall of silence when it comes to bad news. She did a nice job illuminating the Wild West environment that pervades our state ski areas when it comes to disclosure and investigation of accidents that hurt or kill people. Typically, ski area officials won't utter a word about a death on the hill to the media unless someone asks, and as Crummy discovered in her reporting, most of them won't say anything at all about their accident investigation processes.
This information blackout is curious, considering most of our state ski areas operate on public land leased to them by the U.S. Forest Service. If the ski areas are going to benefit from the use of public land, the least they can do is be transparent and accountable when skiers are hurt or killed on their slopes. The performance of the ski patrol, while typically exemplary, is besides the point - it's about access and a standard investigation procedure so the families of those killed or seriously injured know all the details that are knowable.
An evident, if not simple, fix would be to pass a bill in Congress mandating every ski area has, on-site during operating hours, Forest Service personnel trained in snow-sport accident investigation. The number of rangers at any given hill would be based on the number of skier-days a resort hosts. The cost of such a program should be baked into the lease fee.
Whether the skier or resort is at fault in an accident, many hours in Colorado courts are tied up annually trying to point the finger in the right direction. In a democratic society, the very least we should expect is that objective, official and public reports help form the basis of those decisions. Rather than run from more transparency, resorts should embrace a process that may well help them in some cases.
Alex Miller, Highlands Ranch