Editorial: Ski resorts should implement tougher safety policies after accidental death
The tragic, accidental death last week of a snowboarder at Heavenly Mountain Resort raises serious safety concerns.
Stateline resident Ryan Donald Moore, 19, died after falling 30 feet from the resort’s Dipper Express chairlift. Moore fell at about 11:30 a.m. after leaning forward to care for a leg cramp, a Heavenly news release stated. The chairlift’s restraining bar was not engaged.
Moore was accompanied on the chairlift by a friend, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.
“By all appearances, this was an accident,” said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Les Lovell.
Moore was not wearing a helmet at the time he fell and landed on terrain not covered with snow, said Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro.
According to the Tahoe Douglas Fire Department medical unit, which responded to the scene, Moore suffered major trauma from the fall and was airlifted to Barton Memorial Hospital, where additional lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.
Heavenly opened for the ski season Nov. 24 using entirely manmade snow on its runs. That left patches of bare ground and rocks beneath the Dipper Express at points along the route.
Could a natural snowpack have cushioned Moore’s fall enough for him to have survived? If the answer is yes, should ski resorts consider abandoning their drive to open before nature’s ready?
As for other safety measures: Heavenly encourages riders to use restraining bars on its lifts, though it’s not practical to require every rider to use them, Pecoraro said. Using the restraints is encouraged in the skier code of responsibility, posted on lift towers.
“We always encourage people to put the bar down,” he explained. “That’s one of those things that’s hard to police.”
Pecoraro said the resort would evaluate possible changes to its safety policies after the incident’s investigation is complete.
Heavenly has some hard decisions to make.
By all accounts, Moore was an experienced snowboarder who presumably knew the proper way to ride a chairlift. Yet, from what we know, he fell not by behaving recklessly, but after leaning forward to massage a cramp.
Would the restraining bar have prevented his fall? Nobody can say for sure, but that’s what they’re designed to do.
As Heavenly and other Lake Tahoe resorts review their safety policies in the wake of Moore’s death, they should consider the following:
— Require, not encourage, chairlift riders to secure restraining bars.
— If that’s impractical, install automatically locking restraining bars that remain locked until chairlifts reach their destinations.
— Require skiers and snowboarders to wear safety helmets.
The issue is perhaps best summed up by South Shore resident Sara DeFrancesco. The 26-year-old snowboarder was riding the Dipper Express when she looked down and saw Moore surrounded by rescue personnel.
“It was absolutely terrifying to see him helpless there,” she said. “There was no question he was in serious trouble.”
DeFrancesco admitted not always using chairlift restraining bars but pledged to after witnessing the incident.
“We don’t need to be cool,” she said. “We need to be safe.”