SnowSport Safety Foundation releases safety report card; California ski industry dismisses report |

SnowSport Safety Foundation releases safety report card; California ski industry dismisses report

Bill Rozak
It was a bluebird opening for Heavenly Mountain Resort on Friday, Nov. 17.

The SnowSport Safety Foundation recently released its 2017 Family Safety Report Card for 28 ski resorts in California and Nevada, and it was summarily dismissed by the California Ski Industry Association.

The report card is broken down into four separate areas that are graded with several criteria in each. The areas are: Impact Prevention and Systems, Trail Design and Maintenance, Terrain Park Design and Engineering and Safety Policies and Procedures of each resort.

SSSF founder Dan Gregorie, along with Dick Penniman, who goes to each resort and performs the SSSF’s actual surveys, breaks down the safety policies area into several sections. Gregorie says none of the resorts have chosen to share information that he requests.

“We are an independent non-profit foundation that publicly discloses documented research that backs up every claim we make,” Gregorie said in an email. “The resort industry simply says it isn’t so, but provides no documentation to refute it. The Snowsport Safety Foundation is the only organization of our kind in the country precisely because there is no industry disclosed or publicly reported/accessible information about snowsport safety anywhere in the country. The resorts have successfully flown for years below the radar of public safety scrutiny because only they have the information and refuse to disclose it. The resorts put all the responsibility and liability for skier safety on the skier.”

Gregorie tragically lost his daughter in a 2006 snowboarding accident at Alpine Meadows where she was hiking in double black diamond terrain. He sued Alpine Meadows but two California courts rejected his claims, according to a press release from California Ski Industry Association (CSIA) president Michael Reitzell.

“The so-called ‘report card’ stems from single day, spot surveys without any coordination with the ski industry,” Reitzell said in a press release. “The individual conducting these ‘surveys,’ Dick Penniman, has limited experience and credibility in ski resort operations and management. Nevertheless, he has served as a plaintiffs’ ‘witness-for-hire’ in lawsuits against the ski industry, where he has been excluded by judges and rejected by juries on multiple occasions across the country. Predictably, SSSF has found every ski resort materially deficient against its own contrived criteria that are not accepted, used or peer-reviewed. Thus, the ‘survey’ and resulting ‘report card’ merely reflect one person’s opinion about safety at ski resorts. The opinion of an individual who has dedicated his career to attacking and working against the industry will not be our guide on safety.”

Of the 22 large ski and snowboard areas surveyed by the SSSF, Kirkwood received the highest grade (B-minus) while other South Lake Tahoe resorts Heavenly Mountain Resort was eighth with a C-plus and Sierra-at-Tahoe was 14th with a C.

Heavenly and Kirkwood offered no comment while Sierra-at-Tahoe referred the Tribune to the CSIA press release about the report card.

Gregorie compares the ski industry with the automotive industry when it comes to safety. The different car companies use safety as a way to sell particular vehicles and he wonders why the resorts can’t do the same.

“The fatality risk during one hour on a ski slope in California is at least as great as one hour behind the wheel of an automobile and the risk of injury significantly greater,” Gregorie said in an email.

Gregorie says the SSSF has documented through researching the hospital database in California that there are over 11,500 emergency room visits and 630 hospital admissions every year from ski accidents. He wonders what statistics the ski industry uses.

“CSIA and its 32 California and Nevada member resorts make safety paramount on a daily basis,” Reitzell said in his statement. “Resorts follow rigid standards and protocols established by state and federal regulatory agencies. For aspects of the sport that are not regulated by a specific ‘standard,’ resorts rely on the best practices developed through hundreds of years of industry experience from trained ski patrol, mountain operations personnel, resort management, and industry associations. Resort personnel know their mountains backward and forward, and carefully consider each decision about how they operate. Resorts share safety information and work together on safety issues, but they also consider the differences that exist at each resort. There is no one size fits all safety handbook that applies to each resort for use in their daily operations.”

The report card gives California mountain resorts a C for their overall consistent use of 17 of the most effective available prevention and injury reduction practices, Gregorie wrote in a press release.

His C grade, he said, represents only 50 to 60 percent compliance, according to SSSF criteria.

“We think it only makes sense that parents and adult snow sport enthusiasts be able to make informed choices about the safety of the resorts they choose to patronize,” Gregorie said. “Safety on the slopes is a shared responsibility between skier and resort, but so far, only the skier is put on notice regarding their responsibility. The resorts rightly promote a Skier Safety Responsibility Code. But no Ski Area Safety Responsibility Code is made available to patrons.”

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