Tuesday, December 12, 2006

First skier vs. tree of 2006-2007

from the Denver Post

A skier died from head injuries after hitting a tree at Keystone this week. He is the first of this winter, but probably not the last. On average 13 skiers die from injuries every year in Colorado. It happens with remarkable uniformity.
Here's what happened this time:

20-year-old Benjamin Hawk of Oregon hit a tree while skiing with friends on Keystone's Spring Dipper (an intermediate run) at around 2 p.m. when he lost control and hit a tree, according to witnesses.
Hawk, who suffered severe head injuries, died shortly after 7 p.m., according to the Summit County Office of the Coroner.
Officials say he was not wearing a helmet.

The accident follows a typical pattern:

1. The skier was on an intermediate run. Skiers almost never die on expert runs because they don't ski as fast. The last death in Colorado on a black run, I believe, was two years ago at A Basin when a freak in-bounds wet slab avalanche killed a skier on Pallavicini.

2. There was no new snow. It hasn't snowed significantly for almost two weeks at Keystone, which means the runs are fast and probably icy.

3. The accident happened after noon. Groomed trail conditions deteriorate throughout the day as they become more scraped off. Skiers also become more tired and prone to mistakes. Almost all fatal skier vs. tree accidents happen later in the day.

4. The skier was a guy. 81% of skier fatalities in Colorado have been males according to this study. Average age 32 years.

5. The skier wasn't wearing a helmet. In high-speed collisions with trees, a helmet doesn't offer 100 percent protection, but it helps significantly. A Norwegian study published in February 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that using a helmet was associated with a 60 percent reduction in the risk of a head injury. And since a broken noggin is painful if not fatal, it makes sense to wear a helmet, particularly in the above conditions.

What will the skier fatality count be this year? Hard to say. If it keeps snowing, as it did last year, numbers should be low.

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