Wipeout for Colorado Ski Safety Transparency Bill

In late February and early March, Eldora Mountain Resort was the scene of two skiing deaths and two major injuries.
In late February and early March, Eldora Mountain Resort was the scene of two skiing deaths and two major injuries.
Photo by Kyle Ogilvie for Eldora Mountain Ski Resort
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The power of the ski business in Colorado was reinforced yesterday, April 15, when a bill that would have required resorts to reveal information about accidents and safety plans was not just defeated, but crushed. Despite three hours of often heartbreaking testimony from people like Danilda Streeb, whose eighteen-year-old nephew, Etthan Mañon, died in a Christmas Eve skiing accident at Echo Mountain that went unreported for months, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee rejected the measure by a 4-1 margin.

The only "aye" was from Senator Jessie Danielson, who sponsored the bill, while the "no" votes were bipartisan, coming from two Democrats (Kerry Donovan and Rhonda Fields) and two Republicans (Jerry Sonnenberg and Don Coram).

Of the five, only Danielson hasn't accepted donations from Colorado Ski Country USA, the major industry group in the state. Prior to the hearing, Ski Country spokesperson Chris Linsmayer told us that "our members are concerned about the wide-ranging implications of this bill and are opposed." Asked for comment about the final vote, Linsmayer says the organization has nothing to add beyond its hearing testimony.

Senate Bill 21-184, dubbed "Ski Area Safety Plans and Accident Reporting," would have updated Colorado's Ski Safety Act of 1979 in the following ways:

• Requiring each ski area to adopt and publish, in printed form and on the ski area's website, if any, a safety plan specifying the governance, management, and operational roles, responsibilities, and practices of the ski area to prevent accidents and reduce the frequency and severity of injuries; and
• Requiring ski areas with an elevation drop of 500 feet or more and at least one elevated lift to:
• Collect and disseminate seasonal data on ski and snowboard accidents and deaths, including those occurring while boarding or exiting lifts; and
• Collect and make available, upon request, specific information about each accident, including where and when it occurred, the conditions at the time, the type of injuries and whether death occurred on site or following medical transport, and specified non-private information about the injured person.
• The bill makes any failure to create, maintain, and publish a safety plan or provide the required reports or data grounds for discipline by the passenger tramway safety board. 

"It is just the absolute minimum that an industry should have a standard of care, the same way any other industry has," Streeb told Westword before the vote. "But when you send your child to take ski lessons, you have absolutely no idea what the ski area is going to implement if the child gets injured, and that it's not going to get reported so others understand what happened and the risk involved."

Those who testified against the bill saw the situation differently. Among them was Vail Valley Partnership's Chris Romer, who contended that such transparency would put Colorado at a competitive disadvantage, since none of the 37 states with ski resorts must report injuries. The result would have been "a self-imposed black eye," he said.

According to Russ Rizzo of Safe Slopes Colorado, which advocated for the bill, a Vail ski company representative told him that "they would potentially be open to looking at existing statutes that could be improved. ... It'll be interesting to see if Vail makes good on their promise to engage in a serious dialogue about safety and what records they are willing to share."

In the meantime, however, Rizzo acknowledges, "It's disappointing that senators did not heed the clear call from consumers and safety advocates to lead on safety by delivering a basic level of transparency. These common-sense measures could help save lives, prevent serious injuries and lead to systemic safety management improvements. We heard no good argument not to do this. We’ll keep fighting."

Danielson has not responded to Westword's request for comment.

This post has been updated with a response from Colorado Ski Country USA.

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