Ski injuries getting more serious |

Ski injuries getting more serious

Christina Proctor

Hit-and-run collisions aren’t specific to highways. A 61-year-old skier was left with a badly fractured hip after a snowboarder collided with him on an intermediate run this month at Kirkwood Ski Resort.

“It seems to be happening more and more,” said Dave Myers, assistant director of mountain operations. “There is a lower level of awareness among younger people entering the sport. They don’t know their responsibility code.”

Myers said the snowboarder left the scene despite the skier’s request for him to stay. The rider did promise get help, but he didn’t return to the scene, Myers said. The Orange County man was transported to Barton Memorial Hospital.

“It was a busy area so it wasn’t long at all before someone came along, but still it’s against the law to leave the scene of an accident. I hope that boarder sees this and realizes how seriously the man was injured in that collision,” Myers said.

The key to the problem, Myers said, is education.

“Fast is OK under certain conditions as long as you’re in control,” Myers said. “People need to make an effort and be aware of the other skiers and boarders. Ski instructors should convey that to people in lessons.”

Myers’ concern isn’t groundless. Despite that, overall, skiing injuries are down the number of serious injuries are increasing. And although many are quick to place the blame on snowboarders, the statistics don’t back it up. Snowboarders’ injury rates are comparable with skiers’ and they don’t appear to make the slopes less safe for skiers either, according to Jasper Shealy, professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

In a study presented at the Ninth International Symposium on Skiing Trauma and Safety in 1993, Dr. Shealy reported 7.7 percent of ski injuries are the result of skiers colliding with skiers, while only 2.6 percent of snowboard accidents are caused by snowboarders hitting others.

Ski patrollers can’t be everywhere so resorts are searching for new ways to force people to ski and ride responsibly.

“Every mountain has their pinch spots or problem areas,” said Michael Mosca, ski patrol supervisor at Sierra-at-Tahoe. “This year we’ve put up fences to force people to do what we want them to do. We schedule patrollers at some of the pinch areas, and we have ambassadors stationed there. They wave bright orange flags and tell people to slow down.”

Mosca said the majority of the complaints come from elderly visitors and parents with young children. To address their concerns, the resort has declared zero tolerance for reckless skiers and riders.

“With the season-pass-holder-kids who tend to ignore the ambassadors, we’ve cracked down,” Mosca said. “We’ll take their pass for a couple days and place their name in a warning book. It they still don’t listen, we’ll yank their pass for the season. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to go that route, but verbal warnings just weren’t enough. More and more people are coming up and using the hill. And with shaped skis and other equipment advances that allow people with lesser ability to go faster, our job is becoming tougher.”

Vail Resorts in Colorado are creating a special safety force in response to six deaths at its four resorts. Three of the deaths were caused by skiers hitting trees. The other three were collisions. The new patrol will record all accidents, incidents and confrontations with skiers and boarders.

Myers and Mosca both stressed the need for guests and new skiers and boarders to know their “Code.”

All resorts continually post the “Responsibility Code.” Usually, even on the backs of rest room stall doors. It follows those golden rules set down by mom and kindergarten teachers everywhere: Observe all posted signs; stay within your ability; don’t run over people in front of you; look both ways before crossing the street, and never sit in the middle of it.

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