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New employees stand in for safety

KIM MARQUIS
summit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE ” Breckenridge Ski Resort placed emphasis on its slope safety promotion this week by creating a new and separate safety department.

The move is part of the resort’s efforts during National Ski Areas Safety Awareness Week that ended Friday, but is also part of a larger plan to focus on slope safety at the resort.

Safety has always been a top concern, said resort spokeswoman Emily Jacob, but it became a focused topic of discussion among employees when a volunteer was hospitalized after a slopeside collision in November.

After that accident, resort staff who engage in safety work such as speed control switched from blue jackets to yellow ones for more visibility in December.

This month, the addition of the mountain safety department is another step to address safety, Jacob said.

Mountain safety department employees are primarily charged with guest education, but will also engage in speed control, said department manager Ryen Malinchak.

Reckless skiers and riders are blamed for injuries every year on area slopes.

Malinchak formerly held a supervisor position in the guest services department, which had been charged with speed control on Breckenridge’s slopes. Guest services staff will now focus on providing guest assistance, while safety department employees will primarily spend time educating skiers and riders about the Skier Responsibility Code.

The code is derived from the Colorado Skier Safety Act, a law passed by state legislators that outlines behavioral expectations on the slopes.

The mountain safety department will also increase the number of safety signs and amount of fencing on the mountain, Malinchak said.

The public is concerned about speed control at area resorts, according to an unscientific online poll conducted by the Summit Daily News during one week in December.

More than half of 145 respondents (54.4 percent) said resorts need to do more to control speeders on the slopes. Nearly 30 percent (29.7 percent) said speed control is “just right,” while 6.9 percent said there was “too much” control and 9 percent said speed control is not the resort’s job.

Jacob said plans for the mountain safety department began in December. The decision was not “specifically related” to an accident occurrence but “more of a cumulative feeling and part of a bigger-picture plan.”

In response to poll results, Jacob said, “We’re always trying to do more but part of the onus needs to go back on the guests. There’s only so much we can do. I think we try to do more every year.”

Fifteen people were hired for the new department in less than two weeks. Eight of those arrived as new employees at the resort and others transferred from existing departments. When fully staffed, the department will employ 18 people.

Employees working under the new department first hit the slopes on Jan. 14. Up to 12 staff will work on the slopes every day, Malinchak said. Emphasis is on educating guests about the Responsibility Code, but staff members have the ability to issue warnings and pull passes when a skier or rider is caught going too fast or acting irresponsibly, he said.

The resort designates two runs “slow” zones, where resort personnel engage in speed control, but Malinchak said the staff will have a presence on all terrain.

The new department lays the foundation for future programs aimed toward safety, Jacob said.

“It’s exciting for us to have a place to put that safety focus; from here there’s so much potential,” she said.

Other safety week activities at Breckenridge focused on Responsibility Code education through employee initiatives and signs posted in town and throughout the resort.

Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at kmarquis@summitdaily.com.


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