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