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Reckless skiers will find themselves in the lodge

Helmeted skiers or boarders who travel more than 12 mph may need their heads examined if they think they are immune to injury because the speed could defeat the purpose of the device, ski area safety managers have surmised.

“They’re fabulous when you’re not going too fast. But if you’re a speed demon, there’s the potential those helmets won’t help,” Sierra-at-Tahoe Risk Manager Evan MacClellan said, referring to recent studies pinpointing the risk.

The average rate of speed among skiers and boarders ranges from 10 to 20 mph, he estimated. Speed alone is not the determining factor in the outcome of an accident.



“It depends on how you hit, the terrain and the level of the skier,” MacClellan said.

Ski areas will examine the topic all this week during National Safety Awareness Week, which started Saturday and ends Friday. The safety effort was spurred by two celebrity deaths in the 1990s involving trees — Sonny Bono at Heavenly Ski Resort and Michael Kennedy at Aspen Mountain.




A few years ago, a Colorado skier plowed into another and killed the man. He was convicted on manslaughter charges, sending a bit of a chill up the spines of ski resort managers and enthusiasts who ski recklessly.

“Probably, a substantial number of skiers have never heard of the case, but more ski areas started posting slow areas,” MacClellan said.

Since then, ski resorts have beefed up measures designed to promote safety on the slopes.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, injuries among skiers have been cut in half in the last decade. It’s a different story for snowboarders, who have experienced a doubling of injuries from 3.4 per 1,000 riders.

Snowboarders, who have grown in numbers over the last decade, receive a triple whammy of reasons for the dramatic variance.

“Snowboarders are younger, less experienced and more aggressive. So the demographics of risk are higher,” MacClellan explained.

Ski deaths across the nation amount to 39 on average per year, according to NSAA. South Shore resorts average a few every year.

Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra acknowledge ski safety week as well as post signs and monitors to ensure the responsibility code is followed. If not, each resort has a plan in place to deal with reckless skiers and boarders.

Sierra may yank a lift ticket or a ski pass for the day on a problem skier. On the second offense, the pass may be pulled permanently.

At Kirkwood, Ski Patrol Director Dan Jensen said the resort averages about two pulled passes a year, treating day lift tickets and season passes the same.

“If they have a bad attitude, they could lose the pass right there (on the first offense),” Jensen said.

The ski patroller with 30 years of experience has noticed more passes pulled each year, but he believes the trend coincides with increased attendance.

Like other resort pros, Heavenly Risk Manager Terry Hernandez said the key is education.

Heavenly has formed a safety committee consisting of 20 employees from various departments.

“We don’t typically have a problem with repeat offenders,” she said.

The resort starts the education process early, with safety making up much of the emphasis in ski school.

Heavenly has adopted a team called the Yellow Jackets to ensure safety rules are followed every ski day.

The employees in the yellow jackets will be on hand to test skiers’ knowledge of the code. Those who know the code are eligible for prizes.

Sierra has established a similar program just for this week. Theirs involves an employee in tights who goes by the name Captain Safety.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com


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