California Ski Association releases first guide to staying safe on slopes

Overlooking Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Ski Resort.
↓ Advertisement ↓

'Tis the season for snow. And ski resorts are gearing up for visitors to hit the slopes.

The California Ski Industry Association recently released the first Mountain Safety Guide for the 2017-2018 season. The non-profit organization represents 28 ski resorts in California and Nevada under the brand Ski California, and works to promote ski industry relations with the community and other agencies.

The guide is available at all member ski resorts in the form of a pamphlet or online, and aims to educate guests on how to ski and snowboard safely.

"Guest education is the number one thing we can do for our guests," said Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association.

↓ Advertisement ↓

Reitzell told ABC10, the guide is part of the association's commitment to safety. While the group stands by the idea that guest safety relies heavily on decisions made by individuals on the slope, Reitzell explained, there is a lot of prep that goes into resorts off-hours.

Ski resorts rely on industry experts who have "years and years of experience" to survey daily conditions, according to Reitzell.

The Mountain Safety Guide covers basic knowledge, such as the Responsibility Code -- which is familiar to regular ski resort visitors -- which includes tips such as wearing proper clothing when skiing or snowboarding and knowing your physical limits while on the slopes. The guide also includes information on avalanche awareness, slope safety, deep snow safety, trail signage and lift safety.

It covers legal codes, such as knowing its illegal to ski or ride in a closed area or to leave a scene after a collision, except to find ski patrol assistance.

However, there are "watchdog" organizations, such as the Snow Sport Safety Foundation, which claim ski resorts place all of the safety responsibilities on guests, but don't have safety plans of their own.

Founder of the Snow Sport Safety Foundation, Dr. Daniel Gregorie, told ABC10, ski resorts don't keep records of accidents or deaths that occur on their grounds, keeping the information from the public. He said, there are no government regulations ski resorts have to follow.

The Snow Sport Safety Foundation's lead researcher, Richard Penniman, collected data from Sierra ski resorts to create a Family Safety Report Card, which ranks area ski resorts on an "A" through "F" grading system. The average grade for all resorts based on Penniman's safety guidelines, is a "C". 

"We are trying to provide the skier with information about what their partner -- the ski resorts -- are doing for safety," Gregorie said.

Gregorie told ABC10 Penniman is the foundation's ski safety expert and his guidelines are based on years of experience. He said the ski industry needs to do more to develop safety plans based on data from accidents and other incidents, instead of placing safety solely on their guests.

Reitzell countered Gregorie's claim by explaining, all ski resorts are required to report accidents and fatalities to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA). Reitzell said, ski lifts are also inspected by Cal/OSHA Amusement Ride and Tramway Unit annually and ski resorts are required to put up signage as required by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). He added, most ski resorts are on U.S. Forest Service land and businesses must comply with operating plans under the agency's regulations.

The foundation's report card is "based off of one person's opinion," according to Reitzell. He further added, the Association "doesn't acknowledge" the foundation's report card because they "don't have the industry knowledge."

The Mountain Safety Guide was released jointly with several public service announcement videos, including one featuring Olympic gold medalist Maddie Bowman. 

The Mountain Safety Guide is supported by the Association of Professional Patrollers, the National Ski Patrol, the National Ski Areas Association, the U.S. Forest Service, the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, the Professional Ski Instructors of America, the Sierra Avalanche Center, the High Fives Foundation, and KÜHL clothing, according to a press statement from the association.