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Celebrity deaths prompt debate

JOELLE BABULA

In the past month, two individuals have died while skiing at Lake Tahoe area resorts.

A snowboarder in his 20s died Dec. 18 from injuries he suffered at Kirkwood, and Congressman and former entertainer Sonny Bono died at Heavenly on Monday.

On New Year’s Eve, Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident at Aspen, Colo.

All three fatalities were the result of crashes into trees.

Is skiing too dangerous? Are people taking more risks? Or are accidents, injury and even death all an inherent risk one takes when strapping on skis or snowboards?

According to local ski patrollers, skiing and snowboarding aren’t excessively dangerous sports, but there are risks involved.

“Skiing and snowboarding can be dangerous, but there are still far more fatalities in biking, boating and jet skiing accidents,” said Karl Earley, the medical coordinator for Squaw Valley Ski Patrol. “There are even more scuba diving deaths than from skiing or snowboarding.”

Earley said the majority of the calls the patrol team gets at Squaw Valley are not life- or-death situations. Most of the injury calls are for knee or wrist injuries.

“Usually accidents happen when people don’t realize their skill level and go beyond it,” Earley said. “Also, some of the accidents have been happening late in the day when skiers are tired but they still want to get

that last run in.”

In Bono’s death, Earley said Bono was skiing alone which is something Squaw Valley does not encourage, especially during or after a storm when ski conditions can rapidly change.

“Once we had a doctor skiing alone who ended up in a tree well. He didn’t die of injuries, he suffocated,” Earley said. “Ski with a buddy, realize your skill level and be aware of changing conditions.”

Whether you’re a bunny sloper, an intermediate or an extreme skier, Earley does think helmets are a good idea.

“Everybody’s talking about them now. A couple of people on patrol already have them,” he said.

Dan Warren, ski patrol director of Northstar-at-Tahoe, also thinks helmets are a good option and he’s been seeing more of them on the slopes than usual.

“Almost all the kids have them, and now I’m seeing more adults too,” he said. “One patroller here wears a helmet and I wear one when I do speed events.”

Warren said most of the injuries he sees on the mountain deal with sprains, often in lower level skiers, but that extreme skiers are “always pushing the envelope.”

Warren also said he hasn’t seen many head injuries and that ski resorts do a great job of keeping the terrain safe.

“I’m more scared driving through downtown Truckee than I am skiing,” he said.

Although ski resorts make skiing and snowboarding as safe as possible on their mountains, sometimes people can forget their surroundings and the nature of the sport.

“People think they’re going to Disneyland and they forget they’re on a mountain,” Warren said. “They forget there are definitely risks.”


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