Recently a friend of mine has been taken out by an out-of-control skier during the Southern hemisphere season. He was taken out in bad way, requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
This prompted my acknowledgement that over the past several years there has been an increase in near misses or serios incidents on the slopes. This was caused by an increase in winter sports uptake. In addition, as the world emerges from pandemic induced lockdowns, guests may not have had the opportunity to practice their skills, thus increasing risks of accidents.
Whilst the number of participants increased, the ski industry has not been able to increase the supply exponentially. Not surprisingly, due to ecological, economic, or regulatory constraints, resorts have not been expanded overnight. This means more peoples on the slopes, increased wait time for lifting, and overall increased anxiety on the slopes. Also ski instructors have not been magically summoned to complement ski schools across resorts. This left some guests, either learning by themselves, or from friends and family. This was in addition to those skiers and snowboarders who have never been sought and received any professional instruction.
The attitude of “I don’t need lessons” is even more prevalent in the mountain biking world where most of us learned to ride a bicycle at a young age, and decide no instruction is required when taking the bikes off road. As most MTB trails are single track, any accidents involve the rider only. To put things in perspective, skiing is better compared to car driving. One can figure it out by themselves, watching YouTube videos or learning from friends, but most of us take compulsory training and must sit a form of examination. Also, once obtaining the licence, most of us would practice our skills daily, ensuring they remain current. The comparison does not advocate for licencing skiing, it is made purely to paint a better picture.
There will always be those not wishing to take lessons and skiers with limited experience on the slopes. There is nothing one can do about it, and no amount of awareness campaigns from the industry will change that. Going back to the driving comparison, I raised the topic of a potential “defensive skiing” discussion within ski instructors forums, with little success. As ski instructors we are taught to train our guests on safety during lessons, and all of us impart that knowledge.
I asked several of the guests I regularly ski with, friends and family about skiing safety, and I was rather surprised by the results. There was little conscious awareness about on resort safety. Upon reflection I recognised the reduced emphasis on safety in resort when compared to back country. When taking guests for introductory lessons out of bounds my instruction style changes focus from a technical perspective to a safety one: line of approach, consider dangers, weather, how to get out, know your location and so on. In resort, most of this gets lost in the focus on technique.
I asked my focus group about in resort snow safety. Initially I was told they do not know much about. When prompting with targeted questions such as: where you stop on the slope, what do you do when trails merge, what happens when someone is down or how you do safely descent a steep slope, amongst everyone the answers kept flowing in. Everyone had an answer, remembered a drill we did, an analogy, a situation, or a discussion. This is when I understood, that as in resort skiers we take a more relaxed approach to skiing, we are safe, there is ski patrol and boundaries. There is that too, but there are a lot of other skiers and snowboarders who have no idea what is going on. Most of the people I talked to admitted they are focused on improving their technique and failed to consciously acknowledge safety points raised during lessons.
Below are some tips to consider for your next skiing trip to maintain stay safe:
This is the most important tip but the hardest one. Be honest about your skiing level. Most skiers tend to overestimate their ability. We do this for several reasons: genuine belief we are better skiers, assumed experience on the slopes, trying to impress others or whatever other reason.
Often the result is ending up on slopes too difficult for the actual level, or skiing at speeds too high to maintain control.
Truthfully acknowledge your skiing level!
Take it a notch back if needed, test and adjust, take lessons, but walk away to family and friends, instead of being driven off the hill in an ambulance.
Choose the gear appropriate to your skiing level. There is always temptation to go for the top of the range, but it is not always the best option. You would not have a race car as your first car when learning to drive If you are renting. Similarly, you will not purchase top of the range skis when you are still turning in snowplough.
Make sure you rent quality equipment. You don’t have to become a ski technician to know what quality means. Use common sense, and conduct a visual inspection of the boots, skis, poles, helmet. You will pick up if things are amiss, such as rusty edges, loose bindings, or boots with visible damage on the toe and heel piece. When renting seek a reputable shop. Price is reflective of quality. Better gear means more coin.
If you have your own gear and are unsure on your tunning skills, make sure you take it to a shop for a check, wax, and edge sharpening.
Wear a helmet. It’s a smart thing to do. It goes without saying, but some people still need reminding.
Go back to the first point. Be honest and think about your physical overall condition, consider your age and any injuries.
Do a warmup before you leave your accommodation. It can be as simple as a few squats or anything else that would warm up your muscle and joints. Warming up on the hill is not the answer. There is a good chance you will get too excited and just go for a ski.
Discuss and select suitable exercises with your physio therapist, or fitness trainer, particularly if you are managing any injuries.
Make sure you check the map of the resort. Plan your day ahead. Some tips are to try to identify chocking points on the map, or even to understand if an electronic or hard copy map is the way to go.
Check the weather: snow conditions and grooming report. Consider the time of the day when you ski: in the morning on the departure slopes people will be impatient. Around lunch time people are likely to be rushing to lunch. After lunch, some would have had some form of alcoholic beverage, which may impair their cognitive ability.
More important: choose the terrain according to your ability. There is nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries, and trying more challenging terrain, but do not choose to ski black runs just to impress your friends.
Make sure you have the Ski Patrol’s phone number saved in your phone!
Skiers and snowboarders who cannot ski are unable to understand the danger they pose to others. One does not know what they do not know. Because of this, it is up to more experienced and considerate skiers to remain aware and able to anticipate and avoid collisions. Try skiing with someone and,if using any communication devices, flag potential skiers out of control. Always adjust your speed to conditions. Slow down when it gets busy and plan for an alternate path always.
Awareness is the best defence on the slopes. Observe and acknowledge your surroundings, anticipate dangers, have a way out and contingency plans. The trick is you will have to do all this at speeds of over 50 kilometres per hour in busy environments. Boomerang on Snow will shortly release a one day program to help skiers increase their awareness on the slopes.