Danger on the Slopes
U.S. Army Armament Research and
Development Engineering Center
Radiation Protection Office
Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey
There was a huge thud and then everything went black. When I woke up, I was face down in the snow in a rapidly spreading pool of blood. I must have blacked out again because the next thing I remember I was lying on my back on a stretcher, staring at the sky as a snowmobile pulled me down the mountain. As I passed my friends, I saw their concerned expressions. That scared me. I knew I was hurt, but wasn’t sure how badly. Before long, I was on my way to an emergency room. After the doctors examined me, I found out I’d broken my nose. That wasn’t the way I’d expected my day on the slopes to end.
Earlier that day, I was downhill skiing with friends on a mountain I was very familiar with in northeastern Pennsylvania. I grew up in the Northeast and had plenty of experience skiing on icy, packed powder. The slope I was on wasn’t that difficult, but it was extremely crowded that day. Unfortunately for me, there were a lot of first-time skiers and snowboarders around. Many of them felt they were too cool to stay on the bunny slope and moved onto the more advanced slope, making it even more crowded and dangerous.
Not only did the beginners lack the skills for the advanced slope, many were ignorant of the Skier’s Code of Responsibility (see the sidebar article below). One of the code’s basic rules is you don’t enter the slope without first looking uphill and yielding to people already moving downhill. Common sense should tell you skiers coming downhill have a lot of speed and momentum and getting in their way is a recipe for disaster. However, not everyone on a ski slope uses common sense.
As I headed down the slope, I suddenly found a snowboarder heading up right in front of me. Normally, I’d be able to maneuver and avoid a collision, but the slope was so crowded I couldn’t turn without hitting somebody. Unable to avoid him, I hit the snowboarder head-on, fell over and went face first onto the ground.
While he escaped injury from the collision, I wasn’t quite so lucky. My impact with the ground left me with a deviated septum. You might say my nose is permanently out of joint. Along with acquiring my crooked nasal passages, I learned some lessons that day I often pass along to new skiers and snowboarders:
- If it’s your first time on skis, take lessons. It’s better to learn from a professional rather than follow your friends down the mountain.
- Don’t ski on a trail that is above your level. Not only can you hurt yourself, you can hurt others around you.
- Make sure you have the proper equipment and it is adjusted and fits properly. When taking children skiing, ensure they wear their helmets. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, children between the ages of 5 and 14 are the most likely skiers to suffer head injuries.
- Don’t start drinking until after you’re done skiing. I’ve seen too many drunk skiers slam into trees.
- If you’re venturing onto to the steeper slopes or off the trail, don’t go alone. Although I passed out after the accident, my friends were there to summon the ski patrol to help me.
- Stay in control while you are skiing or boarding. Don’t leave the bunny slope until you have mastered it and have the skills to try something more challenging. Practice being safe so you and your fellow skiers and snowboard bums can enjoy the slopes for years to come.
The Skier’s Code of Responsibility
Skiing can be enjoyed in many ways. At ski areas, you may see people using alpine, snowboard, Telemark, cross-country and other specialized ski equipment, including that used by disabled or other skiers. Regardless of how you decide to enjoy the slopes, always show courtesy to others and be aware there are elements of risk in skiing that common sense and personal awareness can help reduce. Observe the rules listed below and share with other skiers, especially those who are inexperienced.
- Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.