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Skiing: Vail Resorts boosts ski slope safety efforts

Play it Safe campaign aims to reduce accidents by encouraging more compliance with skier responsibility code

Vail Resorts will expand skier and snowboarder safety program.

By Bob Berwyn

VAIL — Vail Resorts is beefing up its mountain-safety programs at all six of the company’s ski areas, with more personnel and greater visibility aimed at enforcing the on-mountain rules of skiing and snowboarding.

After an audit last year, the program’s enforcement component has been strengthened, requiring skiers and snowboarders who have their pass revoked to attend an overhauled safety awareness class.

“Our guests have been telling us that safety is a key component of their mountain experience, and their comfort level on the mountain relative to safety is one of the most important things we can affect,” said Blaise Carrig, co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division. “Because of this, we’re launching the Play It Safe campaign across our resorts to encourage locals, destination guests and employees alike to ski and snowboard responsibly so that everyone can have fun on the mountain all season long.

Veteran Denver trial lawyer Jim Chalat reinforced Carrig’s observation on customer demand. More and more skiers are choosing their ski vacation destinations with safety as a primary consideration, said Chalat, who has a national reputation for handling ski injury cases.

“Anything that might prevent injuries and save lives is a good thing,” Chalat said, emphasizing that wearing a helmet is probably the single most important thing skiers and riders can do to protect themselves from serious injury and death.

Vail Resorts emphasis on educating its guests about on-ski safety rules is timely because, on the whole, the number of skier collisions resulting in severe injury has been climbing steadily, accounting for 5 to 10 percent of the accidents that end up with a ski patrol encounter. Collisions account for an even higher percentage of accidents that result in emergency room visits. Preventing collisions will be especially important going into a busy holiday season in a low snow year, with more people sharing less terrain, Chalat said.

Beyond the statistics of increasing skier collisions, it’s hard to get a contextual picture of serious ski injuries because, even though the statistics are carefully tracked by the industry, they aren’t released publicly. The resorts and the National Ski Areas Association treat those numbers as proprietary.

There are statistic on specific injuries, showing, for example, that lower-leg fractures  dropped significantly as safety binding technology improved. But it’s hard to get a sense if the overall number of serious ski injuries has increased or declined, or to compare safety statistics at various resorts.

Chalat said successful efforts to reduce the number of auto-related fatalities provide a paradigm for the ski industry efforts. In the case of car accidents, focusing on awareness and education has paid dividends by cutting the number traffic deaths and injuries, he said.

Vail Resorts’ mountain safety program is based on staffing the mountain with personnel whose primary mission is to enforce the rules of skiing and snowboarding on the mountain, allowing ski patrol to focus on the care and transport of injured guests.

A number of tactics were utilized throughout the years, including monitored runs of the day. The program at Vail has nearly doubled in size since its inception and been a model for the Company’s five other resorts. Training for the group has been modified to better equip employees to deal with people who are in violation of the laws and rules of skiing and snowboarding.

“While everyone is ultimately responsible for their own behavior on the slopes, we can absolutely do our part in encouraging and enforcing responsible behavior and are committed to doing that,” Carrig said.

The new Play It Safe campaign aims at effectively communication critical slope safety information to guests. All six of the Company’s resorts are implementing enhanced on-mountain Play It Safe messaging across a variety of channels and in critical locations, such as terrain park exits and areas where trails merge, to reach skiers and snowboarders of all ages.

Vail Resorts is also working on video communications with sponsored Olympic and world champion ski and snowboard athletes Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White who share the company’s safety vision.

The yellow-jacketed safety personnel have been getting more training to effectively deal with people who break the laws and rules of skiing and snowboarding.

In addition to the Yellow Jacket program, management teams across all six mountain resorts are also being provided with additional training to support the slope safety efforts and will have a larger on-mountain presence particularly on busy days.

“At Vail Resorts, we’re always looking for opportunities to create more awareness and comfort for our guests, whether it’s through new signage and communications or taking a fresh look at the way things have traditionally been done,” said Carrig. “Our focus is on both skiing and riding in control and slow in the designated ‘slow zones’. Skiing and snowboarding are activities enjoyed by young and old alike, and the more we can encourage responsible skiing and snowboarding, the more fun we’ll all have on the mountain.”

You can take a slope safety quiz at this National Ski Patrol website, and get more general safety information at the NPS’s main slope safety page.

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10 Responses

  1. Very sound action. As with any people participation endeavor, rules & regulations are needed on a continuing basis, especially when so many people are involved. After all, snow sports should be fun, not dangerous.

    • Sounds like a lawyer inspired swarm of yellow jackets is about to make vail hostle to free skiers. Know the code, fallow the code. Fast does not equal uncontrolled. Since when does a lawyer know what skiers want when choosing a resort. These misguided attempts to protect people from themselves will ruin the sport. Tree skiing is inherantly unsafe they will say.

      Be a lab, not a poodle

      • I thoroughly agree with your summation, but I also believe that perhaps “full body armor with face mask” should be required. Just punning. I believe you are right as far as lawyers are concerned. A whole new field will open up, which of course will require a surcharge to cover litigation, included in the price of admission. Merry Christmas

        • Ski safety considerations and may other operational decisions are already dominated by legal considerations.

          And I didn’t just pick a random attorney to comment. Jim Chalat has litigated scores of cases involving ski accidents. He has spoken with dozens and dozens of skiers snowboarders who have been seriously injured on the slopes. He’s dealt intimately with the families of people who have been affected by injuries and deaths and he’s been a force in holding ski resorts accountable for what little liability they have left under the ski safety act.

  2. Mea Culpa Bob, didn’t mean it to sound flippant as to the legal considerations. It’s the word “lawyer” that set the tone. Too much egg nog this early in the morning.

  3. Thanks Bob, for the link to the past, it’s a never ending struggle, as each year new players enter the sport.

  4. It’s true and fast does not equal uncontrolled.

    However, as someone who skies alot, I do observe many, many fast AND uncontrolled skiers out there, barely missing, or sadly not missing, other skiers below them. It seems that it should be obvious that the skiers below them do not have eyes in the backs of their heads to see these folks coming, but apparently that either isn’t obvious to some folks, or they just don’t care.

    • I’m sure that some people flinch when they see me going by at Mach 3, but I’m totally in control. It’s a matter of perception, and most of the Yellow Jackets really have no idea whether someone is in control or not, so that makes the enforcement pretty random.

      In shot, it’s very subjective.

      I think the key is making sure people slow down in the critical areas. You can’t expect good skiers to slow down just because there are other people around, but they MUST slow down in loading zones, at intersections, in places with poor visibility …

      And maybe there should be “fast skiing” runs and zones, to warn slower skiers that they are in an area where people are going to be zooming down the mountain.

      I know that most expert runs are open to “fast” skiing, but it’s also nice to open the throttle on a nice groomed intermediate cruiser now and then.

      So at a place like Keystone, with side-by-side intermediate groomers on the front side, one could be designated as a slow zone, while the next could be a go-fast zone.

      That makes management more complex, but surely the resorts could be more creative in how they address this issue.

      • I’m sure you’re totally in control, Bob, and observant as well, so that you see that a skier down the hill from you is making slow and wide turns, and thus you need to take their turning radius into account so they don’t turn right into you as you zoom by at Mach 3. I spend most of my time on black runs where all this isn’t an issue, but when I end up on a run with beginning skiers I pay good attention to them and give them plenty of margin.

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