Colorado skier deaths down this season |

Colorado skier deaths down this season

Jane Stebbins

Skier/Snowboarder Responsibility Code

– Stay in control.

– People ahead have the right of way.

– Stop in a safe place for you and others.

– When starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.

– Use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

– Observe signs and warnings, and keep off closed trails.

– Know how to use the lifts safely.

SUMMIT COUNTY – It might be the education efforts.

Or people not pushing the limits of their abilities.

Or people taking responsibility for their own actions.

Or maybe it’s dumb luck.

Whatever the reason, Colorado has had fewer skier fatalities than usual for this time of year. As of Dec. 3 last year, six people had died on Colorado ski slopes. This year, one man has died skiing in Colorado – on the slopes of Vail Mountain.

Roger McCarthy, chief operations officer for the Breckenridge and Keystone ski areas, said last year’s high death toll was an aberration.

“Every now and then you have a series of things that are totally unrelated that have a cumulative effect,” he said. “You look back, “Was there anything we could have done to prevent that?’ And in most cases there’s not anything you can do about it. We do as much as we can. If they exercise some level of caution, common sense, everyone gets to go home safe.”

Colorado Ski Country USA communications director Kristin Rust said the organization tallies deaths on the slopes, but doesn’t try to determine trends.

“Our job is to make sure everyone is safe up there,” she said. “We do everything we can with the grooming, ski patrol, but ultimately it’s (the rider’s) responsibility.”

She has no idea why there have been fewer deaths this year.

“Maybe it’s more posting, more opportunities for education,” she said. “Maybe people are just paying more attention, paying attention to the responsibility code, to people around them. Or not going in over your head with your ability level.”

Colorado skier visit numbers are due out in mid-January, but Rust said crowded slopes don’t necessarily play a part in skier deaths.

Most deaths are the result of skiers colliding with trees; others die from existing medical conditions that flare up on the mountain.

“If we can point our finger at any one thing, clearly the message is just getting stronger every year,” McCarthy said. “It’s something we’re doing as an industry. But it’s kind of like the highway. There’s always somebody driving fast. Can you stop all of them? No, it’s an awareness thing, an education thing.”

“We’d like to hope it’s what we’ve done to make strides in skier safety and education,” said Emily Jacob, spokeswoman for Breckenridge Ski Resort. “Wouldn’t that be great – people finally paying attention to what’s going on out there. Hopefully, it’s a good trend.”

She said she’s noticed a difference in the designated slow zones, where ski patrollers regularly remind faster skiers and snowboarders to slow down.

She also would like to think people read about skier injuries and deaths and adjust their behavior accordingly.

But, Jacob said, new laws have made it hard for the ski resorts to get the information out to the media about injuries and deaths.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was enacted to ensure patients’ privacy by limiting the amount of information the media can obtain about them from hospital personnel.

The law also limits medical providers – from surgeons to emergency medical technicians on the slopes – as to how much and what kind of patient information they can divulge. Ski officials want to get at least the basic information out, but fear the reprisals, Jacob said.

“Nobody really knows what to do,” she said. “Can we say this, can we not say this, what can we give out?”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or

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