Experts provide skier and snowboarder safety tips after 4 deaths occur in Summit County within a one-month time frame
There have been 4 skier and snowboarder deaths so far this year
In a month time frame, four skier and snowboarder deaths have occurred within Summit County. The alarming trend is a concern, especially considering there were only four skier and snowboarder deaths the entire year of 2021. Both local and national experts have weighed in and provided safety tips and best practices for those interested in continuing their snowsports on the mountain.
This year’s four deaths occurred between Jan. 21 and Feb. 9 and involved individuals ages 21, 23, 24 and 48. All of the deaths occurred at either Breckenridge Ski Resort or Copper Mountain Ski Resort.
According to Summit County Coroner Regan Wood, last year only had four skier or snowboarder deaths, as did the year before. In 2019, there were only two deaths. According to the National Ski Area Association, skiing and snowboarding fatalities are rare. A fact sheet from the organization noted that over the past 10 years, U.S. ski areas averaged less than one fatality per one million skier visits.
Even still, this year’s trend is an alarming one, especially when taking into account the amount of injuries the local health care system sees per day related to the mountain. Dr. Marc Doucette has been working in St. Anthony Summit Hospital’s emergency department for the past 17 years and has witnessed the frequency of these injuries firsthand.
“Probably about 30% to 40% of what we see on a given day during ski season is from the ski areas, and that could be injuries or medical illness, altitude illness, etcetera, but every day we see multiple patients that are injured on the hill,” Doucette said.
Though Adrienne Saia Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Area Association, declined to be interviewed for this story, she did point to the organization’s “responsibility code” which instructs skiers and snowboarders on how to protect themselves while on the mountain.
These seven points are:
- Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
In an email, Saia Isaac stressed the importance of staying in control, as did Kip McCarthy, senior manager of health and safety at Breckenridge Ski Resort. In an email, McCarthy said skiers and snowboarders should familiarize themselves with the terrain of a resort before heading up the mountain, and they should plot their course based on conditions and their ability level.
“Remember that trail designations are relative to the resort that you’re at and are not apples to apples from one ski area to another,” McCarthy said in an email. “Start easier and build up to more advanced terrain when you’re comfortable and ready.”
Another tip McCarthy provided was for skiers and snowboarders to take lessons before starting on the mountain, especially if they are new to the sport. McCarthy, who used to be a ski patrolman, said doing so can improve someone’s experience on the mountain.
“It is never a bad idea to hire an instructor or guide at the resort,” McCarthy said in the email. “Not only can they help you improve your skiing and riding skills, and safely take you to more advanced terrain, but they are also extremely knowledgeable about the resort and where to find the best terrain based on the weather and conditions that day.”
McCarthy noted that most of the calls ski patrol receives are from those who “get in over their head and are uninjured.” In addition to having ski patrol on standby, Vail Resorts also has designated slow zones for areas that combine ability levels. In some cases, there are staff members posted in these areas motioning for skiers and snowboarders to slow down.
“These are usually higher traffic areas where a variety of ability levels are merging together on the same terrain,” McCarthy said. “With Five Peaks and nearly 3,000 acres of terrain to spread out across though, there are plenty of areas outside of our slow zones where it’s appropriate to ski a little faster.”
McCarthy said this season, Breckenridge Ski Resort has brought back its Avalanche Talk Series, which are free events for the community focused on snow safety and backcountry awareness. The next installments are from 6-8 p.m. March 16 and April 15 and take place at the Elevation Room at the Village at Breckenridge, located at 535 S. Park Ave. in Breckenridge.
For more skier and rider safety tips, visit NSAA.org.
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