Over the past three days, Eldora Mountain Ski Resort has logged a series of tragedies. First came a collision involving two skiers that required a multi-agency response. The next day, a 26-year-old snowboarder died after colliding with a tree, and a sixteen-year-old skier suffered the same fate less than 24 hours later.
"We care deeply for the Eldora community and are committed to the well-being of all guests and staff. It is because of this that the recent accidents, which were unrelated and occurred under different circumstances and at different locations, are so heartbreaking for all of us," says Eldora spokesman Sam Bass. "We offer our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those involved, and we hold them in our thoughts and hearts during this difficult time."
Russ Rizzo of the advocacy group Safe Slopes Colorado echoes many of Bass's thoughts. "Our hearts go out to the victims of these events and the many others we never even hear about," he says. "We also thank the many first responders who were involved."
Rizzo adds: "As these incidents make clear, there is a wide ripple effect of serious accidents. That’s why we aim to prevent the ones we can. That starts with transparency."
We know as much as we do about what happened at Eldora largely thanks to the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, one of the best agencies in the state when it comes to providing information about ski-area accidents and deaths, including incidents at Eldora. The BCSO had already reported on a death at Eldora this year; on January 14, Thornton resident David Marquez, 51, was killed in a crash on the expert Corona run. And then came a trio of tragedies, in quick succession.
According to the BCSO, at about 3:44 p.m. on Saturday, February 27, two teenaged skiers collided on the lower part of the Jolly Jug run. Personnel from Nederland Fire Rescue, American Medical Response and the sheriff's office responded; the two were treated at the scene and transported to a nearby medical facility with injuries that weren't life-threatening.
The incident on Sunday, February 28, was far more serious. At approximately 3:50 p.m., the Boulder County Communications Center received a 911 call about a snowboarder who'd struck a tree on the same run, Jolly Jug. He'd been wearing a helmet at the time of impact, but still suffered severe injuries. Bystanders performed CPR on the skier until he was choppered to an area where BCSO staffers and medical personnel had gathered. But despite their efforts, he was pronounced dead at 4:40 p.m.
On Monday, March 1, at around 11 a.m., a similar call came in to the communications center. This time, a sixteen-year-old male skier had smashed into a wooded area on the Lower Ambush run. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The names of the skiers involved have not been released.
Not every ski accident is reported in such detail to the public. There's no central repository for information about injuries and deaths at resorts — so Safe Slopes Colorado worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to generate statistics. The result, made public in December 2020, contains a trove of information. During the 2018-2019 season, for example, ski accidents resulted in more than 8,000 emergency room visits and nearly 1,600 ambulance transports. For an average 120-day season, that breaks down to 66 trips to the ER and thirteen ambulance rides related to skiing in the state every single day.
"Unfortunately, when it comes to ski safety we’re flying blind as consumers," Rizzo maintains. "As exhaustive research by the CDPHE shows, skiing and riding generate more serious injuries than any other recreation activity in Colorado. According to OSHA [the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration], ski area employees have the highest number and rate of workplace injury in the state, a trend that’s gotten significantly worse in recent years."
According to Rizzo, "The sheer volume and frequency of injuries demands more transparency.... Among the things researchers, regulators and consumers alike don’t know: How many serious accidents happen statewide each year? Is the accident volume and frequency (rate) going up or down? What are the main contributing factors? Which ski areas have the highest/lowest injury rates?"
The ski industry has long touted the relative safety of its sport. Back in February 2018, Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs for the Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association, pointed out that more people die of lightning strikes than in skiing accidents every year.
We've reached out to the NSAA for its take on the Eldora incidents and ski safety, and will update this post with a response. In the meantime, Chris Linsmayer of Colorado Ski Country USA offers the following statement: "While these incidents are extremely rare, they are heartbreaking and a reminder to the industry and ski area guests that we cannot let our guard down when it comes to ski and snowboard safety on the slopes. The two recent fatalities mark the fourth and fifth fatalities this season at Colorado Ski Country USA’s 22 ski areas. There has been an appropriately intense focus on COVID-19 safety at ski areas this year, but we must all remain vigilant of skiing and riding safely, especially with excellent snow conditions across the state and warmer spring weather arriving."
Resorts "want to remind guests of Your Responsibility Code, the need to ski and ride within your ability and to always maintain control," Linsmayer continues. "We know that ski areas are providing an escape for people from what has been a challenging time, but it’s important to remember that skiing and riding are inherently risky. Slow down and enjoy the ride!"
This post has been updated to include a statement from Colorado Ski Country USA's Chris Linsmayer.
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