Proposed bill would update Skier Safety Act |

Proposed bill would update Skier Safety Act

Kim Marquis

Jibbing, hucking, goin’ big … call it what you will. But there’s no denying the way skiers and riders tear up the slopes has changed over the past decade, and state legislators are doing something about it by amending the Colorado Skier Safety Act.

Since the Colorado Skier Safety Act passed in 1979, the ski industry has experienced the invention of shaped skis, the creation of the sport of snowboarding and the development of terrain parks that started with bumps in the snow and evolved into huge halfpipes and “hits” capable of throwing skiers and riders 50 feet into the air. Most recently, metal rails and wooden slides have been added to those parks.

Along with the physical changes came a general evolution of skier and rider mentality that no longer reserves inverted tricks for competitions and glossy magazine photographs. The sport has changed, but the law governing it has not.

A bill proposed by Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, that received preliminary approval in the Senate and passed in the House of Representatives proposes to update the Colorado Skier Safety Act to include the new snow features and the different mentality seen on the slopes today.

“This bill is essential because it will add events and activities that were not around during the 1970s,” Taylor said. “Those skiers and boarders who love to take risks need to be aware of the dangers and the law from 1979 is no longer sufficient.”

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House Bill 1393 updates the Colorado Skier Safety Act to include snowboarding and terrain parks. Freestyle terrain will be designated with an orange oval, something skiers and riders who frequent parks have already seen on local slopes.

A new category, “extreme terrain,” will be designated with a double black diamond containing the letters “EX.” Terrain that drops steeply, such as a cliff, will no longer be marked with a “danger” sign and instead will be marked with the new sign including the “EX” designation.

Extreme terrain is defined in the bill as any place within a ski area boundary with a cliff that drops more than 20 feet along a 15-foot run and a slope with a minimum 50-degree average pitch.

The bill also clarifies ski area operator requirements, skier risks related to competitions and requires a leash on snowboards.

With skiers and riders venturing into every corner of ski area terrain, Vail Ski Resort chief operating officer Bill Jensen said the new language is necessary to prevent beginner and intermediate skiers from diving into terrain above their ability level.

“We think the danger signs currently being used (to mark extreme terrain) are ignored,” Jensen said. “The ski area has a responsibility to try to identify terrain that may be considered dangerous – a standard that’s no longer applicable since people are skiing places we would not have imagined them skiing 10 years ago.”

Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald co-sponsored the bill.

“We’re adding an additional level of terrain,” Fitz-Gerald said. “People may say, ‘Yeah, I can do a black, but I can’t do that kind of black.’ This gives people more notice of what a ski run will provide you with.”

The bill does not provide further exemptions for ski area liabilities.

“(The bill) doesn’t change the intent or message of current law, but rather it adds relevant terms and activities and clarifies existing law under the new conditions,” Taylor said.

The bill is expected to pass at the house level and go to Colorado Gov. Bill Owens for signature by the end of the month.

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