Monday, April 07, 2008

Record year for skier deaths

A 32-year-old Lakewood man (left) who hit a tree at Vail Saturday holds the dubious distinction of being the 17th ski area fatality in Colorado this year, breaking the 2001-2002 record of 16.
The accident occurred at about 10:20 a.m. in Blue Sky Basin. It was Vail's first fatality of the year.

Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, told the Rocky Sunday that the number of skier injuries is so small and random that little can be learned from it.

"There's nothing that can be drawn from that," she said. "There's no commonality or trends in the fatalities. There are no relationships to other numbers or statistics. It's tremendously unfortunate to say the least. But it's incidental, and unique, and very, very random."

But that's not quite true. Certainly skiing is very safe if there were about 5.5 million skier visits and only 17 deaths. Even so, trends emerge. Men 18-35 make up the vast majority of deaths. Most fatals happen on green or blue runs. Most are caused by a high-speed collisions with a fixed object, usually a tree. In winter, they typically happen after lunch, when snow is scraped and icy. In spring, though, the pattern may reverse as snow is hard and fast in the morning, then softens as it melts.

Given the patterns, what can ski areas do to minimize deaths? Not much short of cutting all the trees down, and the bark beetle may take care of that.


Dena Rosenberry said...

Wallace Westfeldt, 22, an up-and-coming snowboarder, died Friday out-of-bounds at Aspen Highlands. It was the talk of the valley. I heard from some lift operators that he was part of a film shoot, but I haven't seen that elsewhere.

From all the talk, he was a lovable guy who lived to ride and play outside. What a shame. RIP, and my thoughts to his family and friends.

Captain Obvious said...

I'm not sure I'd call that a trend. If that is a trend people dying that are over the age of 70 is a trend. 18-35 yr. old males are pretty reckless no matter what they do. After lunch on tired legs just compounds the problem.

GreenStyleMom said...

Is there any data on the use of helmets? I'll keep wearing mine, but I'm curious how much they help when you meet a tree.