Hit and runs: still a slope malady | VailDaily.com
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Hit and runs: still a slope malady

Veronica Whitney
NWS Broken Fritz BH 2-8
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Fritz, 61, was skiing on Jan. 30 with a student on lower Riva Ridge, where the Northface catwalk enters Riva Ridge, when he was hit from behind by a skier. The skier didn’t stop after the accident that happened at about 3 p.m.

“I heard my bones break,” says Fritz who is staying with friends in East Vail because his home in Vail has too many stairs. “I have no real recollection other than the sound of my leg breaking on impact. Then having to straighten my own leg. It was very loose, like a bag full of walnuts.”

He then picks up the X-ray that shows his injured tibia with the plate and the screws. Fritz underwent five hours of surgery on Jan. 31.



“You have a leg, the doctor told me after the surgery,” Fritz says. “I’ve been hit twice before, I was knocked unconscious – that’s why I wear helmet now.”

Although there are well over 100 people enforcing safety on Vail Mountain, hits and runs are all too common, says Vail Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen.



“There are skiers and snowboarders running into each other almost on a daily basis,” Jensen says. “It’s the result of skiers and snowboarders failing to follow the tenets of the skiers’ responsibility code and Vail’s own safety message of “Space not speed,’ which keeps a priority in putting a separation in both.”

Fear of liabilities

According to Jensen, it’s fear that causes skiers or snowboarders to flee from a collision. “They know that they can be civilly liable for injuries that they cause and criminally responsible for their actions,” Jensen says.



In March 2001, Nathan Hall, a former Vail Resorts employee was found guilty of crashing into and killing Alan Cobb on Vail Mountain in 1997. He was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, a felony and sentenced to a 90-day jail sentence.

The crash occurred on the last day of the ski season when Hall was skiing down lower Riva Ridge after finishing his shift as a lift operator. Cobb was standing on the slope when Hall – who admitted he was out of control – crashed into the 33-year-old Denver woodworker. Cobb died of massive head injuries on the way to the hospital. Hall was ordered to pay restitution and go through therapy and counseling.

In March 2001, John Hardy, an 85-year-old skier suffered four broken ribs, a shattered thumb and developed pneumonia after another skier crashed into him and sped away down the slopes without stopping.

“I’m disappointed in people’s reaction. That people are so callous not to care,” Fritz says. “I operated in a safe fashion. We were skiing slowly on the side and not stopping.”

Skier’s responsibility

If somebody is involved in a collision, it’s their responsibility to stay on the scene, Jensen says.

“If you leave the scene of an injury, you risk criminal prosecution,” he says. “My advice is if you are involved in a collision, both parties should stay there and send somebody else to get the ski patrol.

“(Vail Mountain) has an industry-leading program in safety awareness,” Jensen says.

Vail Mountain is the only four-time winner of the National Ski Area Association Safety Awareness Award, he said. “We have a protocol in collisions. Every day we have about 60 ski patrolmen and 15 yellow jackets and mountain information people on the slopes,” he said.

According to Kristin Rust, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, all 25 ski resorts in Colorado hold safety as a high priority.

“All resorts do a great job having family zones, fencing, whatever they need to make it safe,” Rust says. “And ski schools do a great job teaching beginners their responsibility code. It’s your responsibility to have a great day out.”

Accident aftermath

In spite of the daily collisions on the mountains, the overall accident rate has declined in the past years, says Jensen, who has worked in the ski industry for 31 years.

“(Accidents) have gone down in the past 10 years,” Jensen says. “And that’s because of the improvement in technology.”

Although the caliber of skiers and snowboarders in Vail are among the highest in the country, Jensen says, if a run is congested, a skier has the responsibility to ski at the same speed as everybody else on the run and leave space between skiers.

“We daily reinforce the skiers’ responsibility code, but we can’t assign one single person to each skier,” Jensen says. “Ultimately, when you look at a situation of people running into each other, it’s accidental.”

For Fritz, the consequences of a collision go well beyond the injury. In addition to the physical pain and the threat of permanent disability, he says he is losing about $200 a day in lost wages.

“By the time I’m out of rehab, it will be about $50,000,” says Fritz, also an avid biker who will start rehabilitation in six weeks.

“It’s the loss of job and income; the pressure on friends, family and the employer; and the time lost,” Fritz says. “I hope I will be able to ski next winter.”

Rust says the responsibility code should apply to everyone.

“Whether somebody is an expert skier or not,” Rust says. “If you follow those steps you’ll have a great day in the mountain.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

In January, longtime Vail resident and ski instructor Joel Fritz was looking forward to three more months of teaching skiing. Instead, he’s lying on a couch with eight screws holding a plate in one of the bones of his leg.

Fritz, 61, was skiing on Jan. 30 with a student on lower Riva Ridge, where the Northface catwalk enters Riva Ridge, when he was hit from behind by a skier. The skier didn’t stop after the accident that happened at about 3 p.m.

“I heard my bones break,” says Fritz who is staying with friends in East Vail because his home in Vail has too many stairs. “I have no real recollection other than the sound of my leg breaking on impact. Then having to straighten my own leg. It was very loose, like a bag full of walnuts.”

He then picks up the X-ray that shows his injured tibia with the plate and the screws. Fritz underwent five hours of surgery on Jan. 31.

“You have a leg, the doctor told me after the surgery,” Fritz says. “I’ve been hit twice before, I was knocked unconscious – that’s why I wear helmet now.”

Although there are well over 100 people enforcing safety on Vail Mountain, hits and runs are all too common, says Vail Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen.

“There are skiers and snowboarders running into each other almost on a daily basis,” Jensen says. “It’s the result of skiers and snowboarders failing to follow the tenets of the skiers’ responsibility code and Vail’s own safety message of “Space not speed,’ which keeps a priority in putting a separation in both.”

Fear of liabilities

According to Jensen, it’s fear that causes skiers or snowboarders to flee from a collision. “They know that they can be civilly liable for injuries that they cause and criminally responsible for their actions,” Jensen says.

In March 2001, Nathan Hall, a former Vail Resorts employee was found guilty of crashing into and killing Alan Cobb on Vail Mountain in 1997. He was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, a felony and sentenced to a 90-day jail sentence.

The crash occurred on the last day of the ski season when Hall was skiing down lower Riva Ridge after finishing his shift as a lift operator. Cobb was standing on the slope when Hall – who admitted he was out of control – crashed into the 33-year-old Denver woodworker. Cobb died of massive head injuries on the way to the hospital. Hall was ordered to pay restitution and go through therapy and counseling.

In March 2001, John Hardy, an 85-year-old skier suffered four broken ribs, a shattered thumb and developed pneumonia after another skier crashed into him and sped away down the slopes without stopping.

“I’m disappointed in people’s reaction. That people are so callous not to care,” Fritz says. “I operated in a safe fashion. We were skiing slowly on the side and not stopping.”

Skier’s responsibility

If somebody is involved in a collision, it’s their responsibility to stay on the scene, Jensen says.

“If you leave the scene of an injury, you risk criminal prosecution,” he says. “My advice is if you are involved in a collision, both parties should stay there and send somebody else to get the ski patrol.

“(Vail Mountain) has an industry-leading program in safety awareness,” Jensen says.

Vail Mountain is the only four-time winner of the National Ski Area Association Safety Awareness Award, he said. “We have a protocol in collisions. Every day we have about 60 ski patrolmen and 15 yellow jackets and mountain information people on the slopes,” he said.

According to Kristin Rust, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, all 25 ski resorts in Colorado hold safety as a high priority.

“All resorts do a great job having family zones, fencing, whatever they need to make it safe,” Rust says. “And ski schools do a great job teaching beginners their responsibility code. It’s your responsibility to have a great day out.”

Accident aftermath

In spite of the daily collisions on the mountains, the overall accident rate has declined in the past years, says Jensen, who has worked in the ski industry for 31 years.

“(Accidents) have gone down in the past 10 years,” Jensen says. “And that’s because of the improvement in technology.”

Although the caliber of skiers and snowboarders in Vail are among the highest in the country, Jensen says, if a run is congested, a skier has the responsibility to ski at the same speed as everybody else on the run and leave space between skiers.

“We daily reinforce the skiers’ responsibility code, but we can’t assign one single person to each skier,” Jensen says. “Ultimately, when you look at a situation of people running into each other, it’s accidental.”

For Fritz, the consequences of a collision go well beyond the injury. In addition to the physical pain and the threat of permanent disability, he says he is losing about $200 a day in lost wages.

“By the time I’m out of rehab, it will be about $50,000,” says Fritz, also an avid biker who will start rehabilitation in six weeks.

“It’s the loss of job and income; the pressure on friends, family and the employer; and the time lost,” Fritz says. “I hope I will be able to ski next winter.”

Rust says the responsibility code should apply to everyone.

“Whether somebody is an expert skier or not,” Rust says. “If you follow those steps you’ll have a great day in the mountain.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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