Talking Politics on a Snowy Day in the Mountains!

I was looking through a few of my emails the other day and one of them stated (name withheld):

"I’d like to know your take on how you feel about a situation that occurred this past weekend with my little girl. We were skiing at (resort withheld ’cause it doesn’t matter) this past weekend and my daughter and I were standing at the base of the mountain minding our own business when out of the blue a snowboard came blasting out of nowhere and hit my daughter in the shin leaving her with a gash that required 14 stitches at the hospital. I didn’t see the board coming until it hit my child, but several people standing by said that it came from more than 100 yards up the hill and yet nobody saw whose board it was and the owner of it didn’t come forward at that time.

The ski patrol did a good job getting her inside and bandaging the cut before I took her to the emergency room, but when I asked about holding the owner of the board responsible they had no answer for me. When we got back from the emergency room I went back to their main office and I was told that the board had been given back to the owner. When I asked for their name they didn’t even ask the guy for his name or anything. They just gave him his board back. When I was at the emergency room the nurse told me that this kind of occurence is rare but that it happens occasionally each year that someone gets popped by a runaway snowboard. She said most often the result is just a bump or bruise but she’d seen more than a few stitches due to runaway snowboards. She then also told me that the State of North Carolina had passed a statute in 2009 that required ski resorts to require snowboard users to wear retention straps to prevent this from happening. When I brought this up to the manager in the office they just laughed at me and told me there’s nothing they could do?

Do you think I have a case against the resort since they evidently are not enforcing the law that was created FOR THEM to enforce?"

I have to admit that this is the second time I’ve been emailed something like this since December 1st and I also have to admit that I ignored the first emailer figuring it was just another "snowboarder hater". However after getting this last email I was riding into work this morning and overheard John Hoffman from up on Beech Mountain, who works for Fred’s General Mercantile, mention the State of North Carolina Statute during a radio show.

So after getting the office opened up I searched for the statute and sure enough there was a new statute signed into law during the 2009 year that states pretty clearly that skier’s and snowboarders are, "…to wear retention straps, ski brakes, or other devices to prevent runaway skis or snowboards before beginning.

The statute is: House Bill 334 / S.L. 2009-353

I’m not an attorney and I didn’t sleep in a Holiday Inn last night. I’ve never been sued nor have I ever sued anyone and if what happened to the lady referenced above happened to me or my daughter I know I’d have been ticked a bit that the snowboarder didn’t come forward, but I’d probably just chalk the experience up as "one of those things that can happen when you’re purposely strapping slick stuff on your feet and firing down a slippery surface."

I’d also own myself a new snowboard. If the sun of a gun didn’t have the nads to show up, it would be mine.

However we live in a "sue society" (not that the lady above is that kind of person or not) wherein people seem to be poised to pounce on any opportunity for a free ride at the expense of the rest of us. Regardless though, if a state government sets forth statutes that require businesses to operate under certain guidelines and then the resort doesn’t – then they obviously leave themselves open to the whim of some trigger happy attorney, etc.

I fired off an email to one of my resort buddies and she told me that most states have statutes in place that require snowboarders to wear leashes but that she was aware that not all resorts enforce it. She added, "Snowboards are not the same as skis. Skis have brakes on them such that when one comes off the brake springs down causing any runaway ski to tumble to a stop pretty quickly. You can turn a ski straight downhill and it won’t slide unless a boot is clicked in causing the spring to flip up."

Of course I knew this little factoid but I share it with you since there are many newbies out there in SkiSoutheast-land. I also share it because my resort buddy also told me that she’d had some irate snowboarders complain that skiers should be required to wear leashes.

Since the state statutes actually make it a LAW for snowboarders to wear them it would seem to do two things:

1. Take the issue out of the ski resort’s hands since they have no choice but to require riders to have them attached.

2. Set the resorts up for frivolous lawsuits if they don’t enforce the statutes.

I’ve got other things on my plate this morning but I figure at some point I’ll ask around to see which resort’s require boarders to wear leashes. My guess is that question would be answered emphatically that they all do. I also doubt if lift ops have time or energies enough to monitor and check every snowboarder to see if they’re wearing them. To be honest I think we’re over-regulated anyway and I guess it comes down to this:

If you’re a snowboarder, I’d wear the leash. The wise course of action is to remove the risk of damage or injury completely by wearing the proper snowboarding equipment. In some cases you won’t have a choice with some resorts enforcing a no leash, no ride policy. They’re relatively inexpensive and they could wind up saving you a lot of money in the long run.

OKAY IT MADE ME LOOK AT House Bill 334 / S.L. 2009-353

Since I was in "legal mode" I took a look at some of the requirements within the statute. Check these out:

Ski Resorts are required:

30 (4) To post at or near the top of or entrance to, any designated slope or trail, signs giving reasonable notice of unusual conditions on the slope or trail;

33 (6) To mark clearly any hidden rock, hidden stump, or any other hidden hazard known by the ski area operator to exist;

35 (7) To inspect the winter sports slopes, alpine and Nordic ski trails, and freestyle terrains that are open to the public at least twice daily and maintain a log recording: (i) the time of the inspection and the name of the inspector(s); and the general surface conditions, based on industry standards, for the entire ski area at the time of the inspections;

Regarding #30 – when I was skiing at Tremblant last week I came up on several runs that had an easel-like sign stabbed into the snow at the start of a trail with the message that there were thin coverage areas along that trail. I kind of like that better than potentially lining a trail with cross markers. I remember one lawsuit from a couple of years ago where a guy was attempting to sue one of our ski areas for not properly marking a bare spot. Evidently he skied through the mud and rocks, injuring himself in some manner. The ski area won the case and in large part because the ski area’s attorney claimed if the ski area had to line a trail with bare spot markers that it would resemble an obstacle course.

I have to admit that I chuckled on that one, but then thought if the trail had that many bare spots on it, it probably shouldn’t have been open.

In closing, there’s NO WAY to injury-proof a ski slope. Even if ski areas were to line both sides of a trail with rubber walls and insure eight feet of snow covered every spot on the slope, people would get bad "rubber burns" and want to complain that the resort should have used tissue paper along the trail sides.

Our Southeast and Mid Atlantic ski resorts do a great job of slope and resort safety. Some seem to be a bit more conscientious or painstakingly careful than others. To say that they’re all equal would not be a true statement. That said, you guys can complain about this or that resort and this or that management staff being tough to deal with or uncaring. However be GLAD that I’m not in control of them. If I were, I’d close them all for private use only because I don’t think I could take the pressure!

Just saying…

See you on the slopes. Feel free to email me directly at [email protected]

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.