Report Finds Slope Deaths Typically Involve Experienced Skiers

January 17, 2017

A new report is debunking the common belief that those killed on the slopes at ski resorts are new to the sport.

According to the annual safety report by the National Ski Areas Association, the average person who died on the slopes of U.S. ski resorts during the 2015/2016 season was a 30-something experienced male skier wearing a helmet who hit a tree going too fast on an intermediate run.

“Beginners on green runs tend to be more cautious,” said Jasper Shealy, who analyzes safety data for the association and has studied ski safety trends for more than 30 years. “It’s when you get on the blue runs with a mix of abilities and speeds that things become less controlled.”

Historically, Colorado’s skier fatalities mirror the national trend, both in skier profile and terrain, The Denver Post reported. Colorado averages 11 deaths on its ski slopes each year, according to Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group that represents more than 20 resorts across the state.

Nine of the 10 skiers and snowboarders killed at Colorado resorts during the 2015/2016 season were involved in crashes. Seven of those hit trees, one hit a fixed post and one hit another skier. The 10th died after suffocating in a tree well, which are formed when low branches keep snow from filling in around the trunk of a tree.

Only one of those killed last year was a woman, and seven of the 10 deadly accidents happened on blue, intermediate runs.

“If you think about it, experienced skiers are the ones who are pushing the boundaries,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs for the NSAA.”They are the ones skiing faster, skiing closer to the trees and in the trees, because that’s where the powder is.”

The odds of death also increase with the number of days a skier or snowboarder gets in each season.

“If you’ve been skiing or boarding for a long time, the risks aren’t at the forefront of your mind,” said Chris Linsmayer, a spokesman for Colorado Ski Country USA. “When you’ve been skiing for 15 years, it’s easy to forget that the dangers are the same every day you ski and every time you take a run.”

Ski industry officials and resort representatives have a simple suggestion for those drawn to the slopes – just slow down.

“I’ve come to think of it this way: The safer I ski, the more days on the slopes I have ahead of me,” Byrd said.

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