Mills: Skiing, safety and the law
Ryan Summerlin March 28, 2013
One of the reasons people live in and visit Colorado is the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities. Skiers and snowboarders spend nearly $3 billion each year pursuing their favorite sport in our state, with 60-70 percent of each dollar spent going to support a business other than a ski area. Colorado ski areas provide world class recreation opportunities in conjunction with the United States Forest Service.
These opportunities would not be possible without the Colorado Ski Safety Act. Originally enacted in 1979, the Ski Safety Act does three primary things: 1) it establishes responsibilities for ski areas; 2) it establishes responsibilities for skiers and 3) it spells out risks inherent in the sport of skiing. All tenets of the Ski Safety Act are as relevant, reasonable and necessary today as they were when the Act was adopted 34 years ago.
Under the law, ski area responsibilities include: marking trails, posting various warnings, chairlift instructions, marking certain structures, delineating boundaries and providing notice of on-mountain trail closures. Skiers can and do sue ski areas if they are injured by a ski area’s failure to carry out its responsibilities described in the Act. The recent series of articles purportedly about ski safety came out of a close coordination with lawyers who make a handsome living suing ski areas.
Under the law, responsibilities of skiers and snowboarders include: knowing and skiing within the limits of one’s ability, maintaining control of one’s course and speed, obeying closures, heeding all posted information and warnings and avoiding skiing or riding chairlifts if impaired by drugs or alcohol. A skier’s behavior has as much, if not more, to do with the safety of the sport as any piece of equipment from helmet to chairlift.
The law states that skiing and snowboarding are inherently risky. The Ski Safety Act articulates inherent risks including; changing weather conditions, snow conditions as they exist or may change, rocks, trees, collisions with natural or manmade objects, and variations in steepness or terrain; it requires ski areas to inform skiers about these risks and provides that skiers injured through them may not sue the ski area. This key provision of the Act was adopted to protect ski areas from claims and litigation for risks assumed by skiers because the risks are inherent and cannot be eliminated. It’s what allows ski areas to obtain insurance and keep the cost of skiing reasonable.
Ski areas’ safety practices do not begin and end with the Ski Safety Act. Ski areas lead the recreation industry in their adoption of proactive safety measures and programs including Lids on Kids, Smart Style and National Safety Awareness Week.
Despite ski areas’ proactive measures, skiers do suffer fatal and serious injuries. On average, a skier’s chance of having a fatal accident is about one in a million. In 2011-2012, 54 skiers and snowboarders died on ski slopes around the U.S. To put this in perspective, the National Safety Council (Injury Facts, 2012 edition) reports that in 2010, 5,200 pedestrians were killed, 2,500 people drowned in public pools and 800 people died while bicycling. These statistics are released annually to inform the public.
Ski areas have grown up in Colorado. Skiing drives our winter tourism economy and is a source of pride for all who live here. What hasn’t changed, is the desire of skiers to enjoy the pull of gravity, feel the cold fresh air in our faces and revel in the unmatched camaraderie of a day on the slopes with friends or family. Colorado’s Ski Safety Act provides a reasonable and sensible framework for all this to happen.
Melanie Mills is the president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA.
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