Ski fatalities dip this season |

Ski fatalities dip this season

Cliff Thompson

More people skied and snowboarded this year – 57.6 million – than ever before, but fewer died, according to the National Ski Areas Association, an industry advocacy organization.

Good snow across the country, particularly in the Rocky Mountains, attracted 5 percent more skiers and riders this winter than the average over the last 20 years. Colorado resorts saw the fourth most skiers ever and managers at Beaver Creek and Vail mountains said the two resorts saw their highest combined total in history.

Despite the large crowds, there were 37 fatalities nationwide, which is eight less than last year and 10 less than in 2000. The numbers, however, don’t necessarily mean skiing is getting safer.

There was one skiing-related fatality in Beaver Creek and none at Vail, while four died at Keystone in Summit County and three were killed on the slopes at Breckenridge.

Skiers account for 70 percent of lift-ticket sales nationwide. Male skiers, ages 16 to 34, are more likely to die on the slopes than anyone else. Last season, 25 male skiers and six females died while six snowboarders – all males – were killed.

The apparent cause is both societal and biological: males tend to be the risk-takers regardless of the activity they’re engaged in, said Tim White, director of education with the National Ski Areas Association.

“Young males tend to be willing to go out on the edge,” he said. “With alpine skiers the most common cause of fatalities is error in judgement followed by loss of control.”

Fatalities are often caused by skiers hitting fixed objects, such as rocks or trees, while collisions between skiers cause a small percentage of the deaths, White said.

While more skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets, a helmet alone will not decrease the number of fatalities, White said.

“Wear a helmet but ski or ride like you don’t have one on,” he said. “One positive aspect of helmet use is people are now giving safety a much closer look than in previous years.”

Vail Resorts, which owns Vail and Beaver Creek mountains along with Keystone and Breckenridge, has promoted a safety program not unlike that followed by safer drivers.

“It’s space not speed,” said company spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga. “You need to keep a lookout for other skiers and riders and fixed objects and maintain a safe space.”

But it’s not clear if safety programs and safety equipment have had an impact on skier deaths. In a typical year, there’s an average of 38 ski-related deaths nationwide. The number of skiers has, according to industry statistics, been static for nearly a decade and nationally the average number of skier-days in a year has been at 54.2 million.

White said there’s “an ebb and flow” in the number of skier fatalities in a given year, but the number over the long-term averages in the mid-30s.

One thing the safety programs may have done is to prevent that number from increasing. With new lift technology, skiers and riders can make more runs in a day and can spend more time on the snow.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or

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