Skier safety: ‘It’s time something is done’
November 13, 2008
TAHOE CITY “-A year ago this month, Dr. Dan Gregorie launched the California Ski and Snowboard Safety Organization in memory of his 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Gregorie, who lost her life in 2006 at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort.
On Wednesday, Gregorie was joined by ski safety experts, members of the medical community, and parents and victims of tragedies at the state capitol to discuss concerns about the ongoing dangers of skiing and snowboarding on California slopes.
With a new ski season opening, the Assembly Judiciary Committee took up the issue of ski safety in the first step toward potential action to make California ski resorts safer.
“I represent a district filled with families and snow sport enthusiasts who head to the Sierra Nevada slopes each year,” said Dave Jones, chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “My first priority is their safety and that of the thousands of other visitors to California ski resorts.”
While today’s technology allows skiers and boarders to travel at high speeds down the slopes, Gregorie and the Ski Safety Organization believe steps can be taken to prevent unnecessary injuries and death.
“One life lost to a preventable accident is one life too many,” said Gregorie. “It’s time something is done to hold ski resorts more accountable and make uniform signage, adequate barriers and proper traffic and speed management part of everyday safety practices.”
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Julia Kozberg said she came to the hearing to give her sister a voice and a voice to others who have lost their lives on the ski slopes.
Kozberg’s sister, Olga, lost her life at Heavenly Ski Resort after running into an unmarked shoulder of the slope filled with hazards.
“There were no signs warning her and no netting or padding cordoning off the tree well with rocks,” said Kozberg, adding, “Once she arrived at Washoe Medical Center with major brain swelling, doctors saw she had no chance of surviving. With the Legislature’s help, we can save many lives and unnecessary tears in the future.”
Injuries and deaths on ski slopes are viewed as inherent risk of the sport under the basic tenet of ski law. This inherent risk doctrine shields ski resorts from liability associated with ski and snowboard deaths and injuries regardless of fault.
While Gregorie commends certain resorts for doing their part to make mountains safer, he believes the issue is sometimes misjudged.
“Resorts are very focused on patron behavior and that is only one component of safety” said Gregorie. “What they don’t talk about is accident prevention programs.”
In many cases a solid defense is the best offense. One example is Squaw Valley, which like other resorts promotes safety through free weekly avalanche beacon training classes, participating in National Safety Awareness Week, and producing public service announcements featuring famed Squaw athletes.
“Our Steep and Deep clinic always has a packed audience,” said Savannah Cowley, Squaw Valley Media and Public Relations. “It is emblematic that our guest and community really care about avalanche safety and safe skiing.”