Dr. DANIEL GREGORIE, M.D. MSM
President, Snowsport Safety Foundation
The recent “accident” at Bear Mountain ski area in which a small child slipped off a chair lift and dangled perilously close to death or severe injury spotlights a number of underlying unaddressed safety management problems at California ski areas.
Safety is not by accident!
Safety requires a detailed systematic management plan (known as a Safety Plan) that includes established safety standards and an ongoing set of operating procedures and employee training to assure plan compliance.
The child at Bear Mountain, even though supervised by her ski instructor, apparently slipped off a chairlift with a seat that had neither been cleared of snow and ice nor the safety bar securely lowered (only nine out of 26 resorts surveyed in California have safety bars on all their chairlifts).
To assure safety, resorts must have a regular disciplined check-list of conditions and actions that are met before the first lift loads each day and before the lift advances after each new loading. This apparently did not happen at Bear Mountain. One wonders what other hazardous conditions on Bear Mountain are unaddressed as well?
Bear Mountain is not alone. The reality is that most, if not all, ski resorts do not have detailed safety plans that include standardized safety practices and compliance programs. Bear Mountain should be asked to disclose whatever safety plan it may have and provide documentation of its compliance with whatever standards and practices the plan may include.
In the aftermath of the accident at Bear Mountain, the parents reported in an ABC TV interview repeated unanswered requests for information from the resort regarding the details of the event, the medical evaluation of the child on the scene (she apparently was initially reported to be unconscious) and the emergency care provided by ski area first responders. If the child was indeed unconscious at any point she should have been immediately transported to a hospital for neurological evaluation. A description of the accident and a record of the medical evaluation and care provided on the scene would be important information for that evaluation.
It is a little known fact that ski resort first responders are not subject to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority licensing requirements and oversight as are all other first responders in California.
The resorts have no public reporting requirements. Resort patrons must start demanding this information. When this information is publicly available, safety will become a consideration in patrons’ selection of resorts and competition will become a potent driver of improved resort safety management. In absence of such complete disclosure, the Snowsport Safety Foundation (see the California Ski Area Family Safety Report Card at www.snowportsafety.org) will continue to do anonymous site surveys of resort safety practices and provide the public with the only comparative safety information currently available to inform their choice of resorts.
Daniel A. Gregorie is President of The Snowsport Safety Foundation. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of this paper or its corporate ownership.