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Skier Fatalities: Myths About Who Dies, and Where, Debunked

Local skiers often assume that those killed on the slopes of Colorado’s ski resorts are tourists new to skiing or riding, but that couldn’t be further from the deadly truth.

The average person who died on the slopes of U.S. ski resorts during the 2015/2016 season was a 30-something experienced male skier wearing a helmet who hit a tree going too fast on an intermediate run, according to the National Ski Area Association’s annual report on safety.

“Beginners on green runs tend to be more cautious,” said Jasper Shealy, a professor emeritus of the Rochester Institute of Technology who analyzes ski safety data. “It’s when you get on the blue runs with a mix of abilities and speeds that things become less controlled.”

Shealy analyzes safety data for the National Ski Area Association and has studied ski safety trends for more than 30 years. Through those years he has seen a steady pattern: most fatalities at resorts happen on blue, or intermediate, runs.

Historically, Colorado’s skier fatalities mirror the national trend, both in skier profile and terrain. Colorado averages 11 deaths on its slopes each year according to Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association representing state resorts.

Nine of the 10 skiers and boarders killed at Colorado resorts in the 2015/2016 season were involved in collisions, according to news reports. In those collisions, seven people hit trees, one hit a fixed post and one hit another skier. The tenth died after suffocating in a tree well. Only one of those killed last year was a woman. Seven of the 10 deadly accidents occurred on blue runs; nine of the 10 killed were men.

“If you think about it, experienced skiers are the ones who are pushing the boundaries,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs for the National Ski Area Association, which designates January as Ski Safety Month. “They are the ones skiing faster, skiing closer to the trees and in the trees, because that’s where the powder is.”

There is also the matter of the odds increasing with the number of days you get in each season.

“If you’ve been skiing or boarding for a long time, the risks aren’t at the forefront of your mind,” said Chris Linsmayer, of Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents all the state’s non-Vail resorts. “When you’ve been skiing for 15 years, it’s easy to forget that the dangers are the same every day you ski and every time you take a run.”

Linsmayer said Colorado resorts strive to keep visitors safe regardless of their ability level.

“We try to keep the issue of safety in front of people every chance we get,” said Stephanie Sweeney of Copper Mountain, which posts attention-getting signs such as, “Protect Your Grill, Look Uphill,” throughout the resort.