January marks national safety month at ski resorts across the U.S. | AspenTimes.com

January marks national safety month at ski resorts across the U.S.

Getting whacked in the head by someone carrying their skis incorrectly or having to slam on the brakes when groups of people are stopped in blind spots on the mountain are just a couple of the safety hazards skiers and snowboarders face almost daily.

Ski resorts across the country are kicking the year off with National Safety Month throughout January to remind folks of safety precautions and mountain etiquette.

While recent letters to the editors and columns in the local papers arguing both for and against skiing fast have sparked communitywide interest and debate, skiers, snowboarders, instructors and ski patrollers identify a number of other risks they experience daily.

One recurring issue pointed out by all types of mountain users is skiers carrying their skis and poles incorrectly.

Sixteen-year-old skier India Grimstad of New York said she always sees at least one skier holding and transporting their equipment the wrong way at the Silver Queen Gondola plaza.

"It's so dangerous," skier Camille Rubin said, adding that she's witnessed others get whacked in the head by a pair of skis or stabbed by flailing poles.

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Local skier Elizabeth Puett said she thinks one of the most dangerous parts about being on the mountain is having to dodge groups of people who stop in the middle of a run.

"It seems like lots of people are taking a break or regrouping in places that aren't very visible or are really in the way of other skiers," Puett said.

Aspen Skiing Co. ski instructor Cris Stanton said the greatest risk he sees is people not giving downhill skiers the right of way at intersections, "which causes really bad accidents."

Stanton said beginners skiing or snowboarding with headphones is another danger he often sees on the mountain.

Aspen Mountain ski patroller and avalanche technician Steve Rausch said the greatest risk he sees on all four mountains is skiers and snowboarders who overestimate their abilities, and underestimate the terrain, and consequently ski or ride terrain that exceeds their level of skill.

Rausch, who's patrolled the mountains for 20 years, said this is the No. 1 cause of injuries on the mountain.

"We see it all the time," Rausch said. "It's crazy. You're like, 'Why is this person with this skiing ability trying to ski this run?' Of course something bad is going to happen."

Forrest Wylder, who lives in California and has skied in Aspen for the past 15 years, said people skiing terrain above their ability poses a threat both to themselves and also to others on the mountain.

Wylder's friend who he was skiing with when interviewed by The Aspen Times, Celina Doka, broke her knee a year ago in Vail after an out-of-control skier ran into her from behind.

In her 42 years on skis, Doka said it was the first accident she's ever had on the mountain.

"It changes your life," Doka said. "I couldn't drive for six months."

Rausch said the frequency of injuries that happen on the mountain is "a gravity storm, because it does not make any sense."

Despite snow conditions, weather, etc., on some the days ski patrol will see four or five injuries in a short time, and then other times it won't see an injury for days, Rausch said.

"Then a few days later, there are two or three injuries again. It's bizarre," Rausch said. "In my 20 years, I've never figured out a pattern."

Some of the more common injuries Rausch said he sees on the mountain are injuries to the knees for skiers and injuries with shoulders, lower arms, wrists or hands for snowboarders.

In an effort to combat some of these injuries and risks, as part of National Safety Month, Skico will host a weeklong safety initiative on each of the four mountains.

Along with avalanche-dog demonstrations and beacon training, Skico will set up a tent and other displays at the top of the mountain where people can ask questions and learn about how to stay safe on the mountains, Rausch said.

Safety weeks at aspen snowmass

• Aspen Highlands’ safety week will run January 3-9

• Buttermilk Mountain’s safety week is Jan. 11-16

• Snowmass Mountain’s safety week is Jan 17-23

• Aspen Mountain’s safety week is Jan. 24-30

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