- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

Death on the ski slope is a riveting story that pops up every winter. Images of bodies strewn across a barren snow meadow clog the imagination of uninformed non-skiers and make good fodder for news organizations.

The reality of skiing fatalities is much different. For those who enjoy sliding down a snow-covered mountain, the chances of having a fatal accident are virtually non-existent.

“It’s always tragic to report fatal accidents,” said National Ski Areas Association president Michael Berry. “We recognize that the fatality rate fluctuates slightly each year, but a person’s chance of having a fatal accident on the slopes remains less than one in a million.”

In the past decade, there has been an average of 38 deaths each season. The average skier/snowboarder visits in a season for the same period is 54.2million. That has kept the fatality rate under one in a million. A skier/snowboarder visit is an industry measurement that represents one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night.

NSAA reported 37 skiers and snowboarders died accidentally on U.S. slopes last winter compared with 45 the previous season. The most deaths reported by NSAA in the last decade was 49 in the 1994-95 season, and the least was 26 in 1997-98.

With a record 57.6 million skier/snowboarder visits in winter 2002-03, the death rate works out to .64 deaths for every million visits. The highest rate was .93 in 1994-95 and the lowest was .49 in 1997-98. Of the fatalities last season, 31 were male and six female. Thirty-one were skiers and six snowboarders. Avalanche deaths in wilderness areas were not included, because those fatalities do not occur within a ski area.

Much of the risk inherent in skiing comes down to individual choices. “A person can control the risk through speed and direction,” said Berry. “By and large, it’s personal responsibility that will reduce the number of events of consequence.”

Berry emphasized that personal responsibility and safety issues remain top priorities at ski areas in the United States. Many resorts have developed safety education programs and promote a skier/snowboarder responsibility code.

“The problem the sport has is, skiing is where the rich and famous are,” Berry said. “Anything that happens at a ski area, you hear it first.”

The National Safety Council, in its “Injury Facts, 2002 Edition,” presents fatality numbers of activities that can be looked at to gain a perspective of the risk a skier takes each time he participates in the sport.

In 2001, skiing’s 45 fatalities worked out to 4.21 deaths for every 1 million skiers. For scuba diving in 2000, there were 91 fatalities, 56.9 for every million divers; in swimming (2001) there were 1,200 fatalities, 21.9 per million swimmers; and bicycling had 800 fatalities in 2001, for a rate of 20.5 for every million cyclists.

The council reports in 2001 42,900 Americans died in automobile accidents; 5,800 pedestrians were killed; 14,200 died from falls; and 14,500 died from poisoning. The National Climatic Data Center reports that lightning was responsible for 46 deaths in 1999. Additionally, 94 deaths resulted from tornadoes in 1999. In the 2000-01 season, 45 fatalities were recorded at ski resorts.

“We know that the most risky point of a ski trip is getting to and from the area,” Berry said.

Season pass deadline — Oct.31 is the deadline for getting a break on season passes at three Pennsylvania resorts: Whitetail (Mercersburg, 717-329-9400, skiwhitetail.com), Liberty (Carroll Valley, 717-642-8282, skiliberty.com) and Ski Roundtop (Lewisberry, 717-432-9631, skiroundtop.com). The three resorts also have an Advantage Card that allows discounts on lift tickets, lessons and rental equipment.

Snow Sports appears on Sundays in The Washington Times during the winter. Contact: bclapper@washingtontimes.com.

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