Safety for Wintertime Activities
January 25, 2018
Every year the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) launches an awareness campaign as part of its National Safety Month. The campaign aims to keep snowboarders and skiers safe as they visit the slopes to have fun with these popular winter activities.
According to recent data from the NSAA, 44 fatalities occurred during the 2016-17 ski season. While the number of fatal accidents increased from the year before, the number of catastrophic ski and snowboard-related injuries decreased. A total of 33 individuals sustained catastrophic injuries on ski slopes. The NSAA considers catastrophic injuries to be those involving:
- Broken necks;
- Broken backs;
- Paralysis, and:
- Life-altering head injuries (e.g. traumatic brain injuries or TBIs, severe concussions, etc.)
The exact number of non-catastrophic snowboarding and skiing injuries is unknown, but even a mild fall on the slopes can result in a pulled muscle, bruises or tears. The NSAA reports that men are at a disproportionately higher risk for catastrophic and fatal injuries than woman. 36 men were killed in skiing or snowboarding accidents last season and 24 sustained catastrophic and/or life-changing injuries, which may have resulted in permanent disability.
Overall, it appears as though the number of catastrophic and fatal injuries associated with snowboarding and skiing is on the decline. According to a 2011 study, the rate of these incidents has been steadily decreasing since 1980. One reason for this may very well be that ski and snowboarding equipment has evolved and may come with an array of safety features; another reason is that many skiers and snowboarders wear safety helmets. However, as with other types of products, defects or manufacturing mistakes can present major consumer hazards.
Similar to biking, wearing a helmet when skiing or snowboarding can protect people against fatal traumatic brain injuries. Injuries and deaths on ski slopes are often the result of collisions. Collisions typically occur with another person or a fixed object such as a tree, sign, snowmaking equipment, lift towers and/or fencing. NSAA data indicates that more skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets; all in all, approximately 83% wear them. In 2002, only one-quarter of skiers and snowboarders said they wore helmets – but thanks to various safety and awareness campaigns, more and more people are wearing them.
Because most fatal injuries on ski slopes are the result of traumatic brain or head injuries, wearing a helmet is one of the biggest ways to take precautions. The National Safety Council (NSC) finds that by wearing a helmet, individuals can limit their overall chances of being injured anywhere from 30-50%. The age group that faces the greatest risk for head injuries due to not wearing safety helmets is individuals between the ages of 18 and 24-years-old. Even though individuals over 18 don’t wear helmets frequently enough, minors who are 17-years-old and younger have been setting record highs for helmet use. The NSAA reports that roughly 90% of individuals under 17-years-old wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding. When it comes to skiers and snowboarders under 9-years-old, a whopping 97% wear helmets.
Ill-fitted or inappropriate ski and snowboarding equipment can result in serious or deadly injuries. It is important to ensure purchasing or renting reputable, safe equipment, and as an added precaution, the NSC advises consulting with safety experts.
The council also has kid-specific tips. Here are a few examples:
- Make sure kids wear sun protection, such as full coverage sun block;
- Don’t forget about eye safety! Individuals should always wear ski/snowboard glasses or safety goggles;
- Ensure that minors have emergency phone numbers on-hand, such as a parent or guardian’s number and the number of wherever the child is staying (e.g. hotel, family home, etc.)
- If the minor will be taking ski or snowboard lessons, make sure that he or she knows the name of the instructor and has a trail map;
- Establish a meeting place (like at the main entrance of the ski lodge, a customer service booth or cafeteria) in case a minor becomes confused or gets separated from his or her group;
- Dress children in proper clothing such as absorbent top and bottom “long johns”, multiple layers, weather proof jackets, and:
- Always have minors wear a ski or snowboard helmet
To read more helpful tips for parents and caretakers of minor children from the NSAA, please visit this resource page.
Adults need to take precautionary measures when they ski or snowboard as well. While many tips are the same for adults as they are for kids, there are a few key variations. It is advisable for people of any age who are going to ski or snowboard to wear helmets, dress properly for the weather, use safe equipment and wear ski/snowboard glasses or safety goggles. Some of the NSAA’s adult-specific safety tips include:
- Try to get into shape before you go skiing or snowboarding (but talk directly with a doctor before making any dietary or lifestyle changes) – these are physical activities, and preparing beforehand can make it more fun (and comfortable!) on the slopes;
- Do not drink alcohol or use drugs when skiing or snowboarding;
- If you’re on a slope that’s too advanced, leave all equipment on and safely side-step down;
- Avoid dehydration – drink lots of water! And:
- Be aware of your limits and don’t push yourself beyond them; doing so can result in catastrophic and/or fatal injuries
There are other ways that individuals can get injured on ski slopes, especially if a resort owner fails to safely maintain his or her property, putting skiers and snowboarders at direct risk for serious injury and death. Research indicates that most skiers and snowboarders are injured due to the inherent danger of the activities themselves, but in some cases a resort owner may be liable for damages. If a defective piece of equipment (such as a pair of rental skis) or ski lift inflicts injury, the owner may be legally responsible. Similarly, if a person is injured or killed because appropriate warning or alert signs weren’t in place or because of haphazard slope maintenance, the resort owner may be liable. If you or a loved one sustained injuries on a ski slope for any of these reasons or some other type of safety or maintenance failure, please contact a representative at our firm directly.
Philadelphia Premises Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Individuals Injured or Killed on Ski Slopes
If you were injured because of safety failures at a ski slope or because of defective equipment, please contact our Philadelphia premises liability lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.