Why This Ski Season Has Seen More Fatal In-Bounds Crashes

Aunika Skogen | CrashCrash
Crash Scene
Ski Patrol; image: snowlink.com

This season has been off to a rocky start in many ways. Many resorts have been dealing with the lack of snow across the nation, as well as an increase in fatal crashes.

Ski resorts all across the country have been in a drought. This winter has been exceptionally dry of late, and on top of it, areas have seen more and more traffic. 

So far, there have been at least 14 in-bound ski-related deaths at resorts all across the country. Major areas like Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Jackson Hole, Mt. Hood Meadows, Eldora, Alta, Palisades Tahoe, and even Fernie Resort in Canada, have experienced crashes that ultimately resulted in a loss of life. Most of these accidents have happened on predominantly expert (steeper) runs where the skier lost control and couldn’t stop themselves. 

Due to the lack of snow, many resorts are still experiencing early season-like conditions. In many instances, runs have hazards such as rocks, logs, stumps, and baby trees that can catch someone off guard. This can cause an unsuspecting skier to catch an edge, lose control and end up sliding, sprawled out down the hill or into a tree. A skier at Copper Mountain recently passed after impacting with a rock. Another accident at Jackson Hole took place after the skier caught an edge and lost control, causing them to slide down towards a cliff and take a fatal fall. 

In a TV interview, Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center said that in the current conditions, caused by the recent dry spell, a small crash can become catastrophic.

“These are unusual snow surface conditions for us in Utah, particularly going into the second and third week of February. Right now, the snow’s surface conditions are super variable. They’re hard in some places, they’re icy in other places on steep slopes. It’s very hard to stop yourself from falling once your skis, your board, your snowmobile is knocked out from underneath your feet. A small crash can become catastrophic on the icy, unforgiving slopes.

Our snow surface conditions aren’t quite as soft and forgiving as we normally expect this time of year. So maybe it’s time just to temper down our objectives, pump the brakes a little bit, and size up some of the situations that we’re getting in so that we can enjoy a great weekend out in our amazing mountains.”

– Craig Gordon

There have also been multiple collisions between skiers and riders that were fatal.  With snow being so limited, some resorts have struggled with opening terrain.  Less terrain open can lead to busier runs which can raise the potential for human-to-human collisions.

Another factor that may be adding to this year’s increase in fatal crashes is the texture of modern ski gear. Most jackets and pants are made out of lightweight Gore-Tex material. It works great for repelling water and keeping you dry, but this type of material tends to be more likely to slide than wool or textured fabrics. As a result, if a skier ends up sliding down the hill on their back, their jacket will provide a very slick surface upon which their slide could accelerate.

Skiing is a hazardous sport, and as it has grown in popularity, it’s important to remember to enjoy time spent on the mountain safely. When entering technical terrain, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings, the conditions, and how the terrain may impact your fall.

Ski Patrol monitors and closes runs, putting hazard signs up to warn skiers of potential dangers. The coverage is not as good as it usually is this time of year. It’s always best to know your limits and stay within them, as well as skiing with a friend or two. Not only should you be aware of conditions, but learning how to safely fall by ‘self-arresting’ is super important. For skiers that will be sending it down steeper terrain, knowing how to regain control even after falling can ultimately be lifesaving.

Self Arrest After Crashes
Slim Slidell at the Top of Chair 2 at Taos Ski Vally, Reminds Skiers to ‘Self Arrest’ on Steep Terrain; image: newmexicomagazine.org

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14 thoughts on “Why This Ski Season Has Seen More Fatal In-Bounds Crashes

  1. I think the fact that Vail sold millions of epic passes has something to do with it. all the while reducing terrain staff and ski patrol. what do you expect. Then you have more inexperience skiers form the east coast, like myself traveling out west more to unfamiliar terrain. And just the ever increasing stupidity/selfishness of the average person in general. I’m only reading this article because I suffered my first collision with someone the other day at snowbird and it was a skier traversing completely perpendicular to the fall line and hit me. People make mistakes though and it was somewhat of a freak accident. we were both going about 30 mph but you would think a skier traversing a wide open slope would be looking uphill for other riders and would be able to avoid slamming into me

  2. As a stoner snowboarder who enjoys music and IPA’s. I kind of agree with you. I mainly hit the vape and don’t drink on the slopes. I’ve never caused an accident though. Some peoples attitudes just suck and they just don’t care if they hit someone. and I’ve stopped the earbuds a long time ago. One just so I’m not so anti-social on the lift, and because I can’t hear if other riders are near me. even though it feels so awesome to listen to some Hendrix while shredding. The big issue i see with what you are saying is that you are a novice skier, and you are taking your two small children on blues and blacks. Nothing wrong with you wanting to ride there, its just our expectations from it. You have people that drop ever extra dollar they have to go shred those blacks a few days year. That have the actual skills to ride it. Being a novice, on intermediate and EXPERT slopes is not a safe way to ski or ride.

  3. I completely disagree. Had my very first collision two days ago and it was the skiers fault. People not paying attention cause accidents. Doesn’t matter so much what you are riding. Skiers and snowboarders have shared slops for 30+ years now. Both cause accidents. and actually Skiers hit snowboarders more than snowboarders. They typically are capable of achieving higher speeds. and skiers can yard sale all their equipment and have it come flying at you. Snowboard usually stay on the rider. Skiers are more likely to suffer a fatal crash. So really it’s skier’s that are putting snowboarders at risk. I had a skier ruin the last two days of my vacation this week. We were at Snowbird which is know for steep runs and cliffs that people are often coming down. I was pointing it off a small rock drop in fresh pow and was picking up speed down the fall line, and a skier twice my size, came out of nowhere not paying attention ,was traversing completely perpendicular to the fall line (roughly the same speed as me at 30mph)clips the back of me( I ran over the front of his skis) so he should have been able to see me I was well in front of him and sent me into a tomahawk. It could have killed one us both, it was not pretty. really sprained my left wrist bad though and had to go home, and not ride the next day, and wont be able to work as hard at work until it heals. I think intoxicated people are a bigger problem (mainly drunk people)

  4. I’m a 50 year old novice skier with two small kids (10 and 7) we live in a ski town and we all like to go for it. when I ski with my kids down popular blues and blue blacks some behaviors really worry me. In particular I see a lot of snow boarders chugging a strong IPA on the lift, then hitting a weed vape at the top before taking off with earbuds in. I realize I now sound like an old kill joy – but this is really dangerous. Shit faced with no ability to hear the people around you is not a safe way to ski or slide.

  5. Putting skiers and snowboarders together on the same runs was never a good idea. Snowboarders have a totally different field of view and collisions are inevitable. As a skier, I have been hit twice by snowboarders.

  6. at the resorts in PA I’ve observed what looks like an increase in marijuana and alcohol use / intoxicated skiing – is that playing a factor in any of these accidents?

  7. Stuff ain’t marked well at some places. I was lucky enough to do a 3 month ski resort tour last winter & this winter (yes I am an Ikon pass holder). I skied 14 resorts last year and I am on my 8th this year. And, at some places, stuff ain’t marked real well. There are great disclaimer signs saying “danger, unmarked obstacles, etc”. But then there’s just a super slender bamboo pole marking the obstacle. Hell, I believe a lot of stuff isn’t marked at all.

  8. So what you are saying is the ski clothing industry is making clothing that helps in killing us? Sounds like a good lawsuit, American style.

  9. Resort owners have cut back on the number of employees and the hours that they work.

    That means less snow making, less grooming, less patrolling, and less safety.

    Resort owners have made skiing more dangerous to increase their profits.

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