By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
Two pieces of California legislation that would mandate helmet use for young skiers and snowboarders and demand other ski-area security measures are generating a lot of discussion among Western ski resort risk managers.
A bill by Democratic Assemblyman Dave Jones of Sacramento would mandate that every skier and snowboarder under the age of 18 in California wear a helmet and would put the onus of enforcing the regulation on ski resorts.
California, which is home to some legendary ski areas in the Sierra Nevadas, has some ski resort operators that aren't too happy about that one.
"We categorically do not support Assemblyman Jones' bill," said David Byrd, the director of education and risk at the Lakewood, Colo.-based National Ski Areas Association.
"It would open California ski areas to unprecedented levels of potential liability," he said.
Jones' bill would also require ski resorts to track and record recreational deaths and injuries and adopt universal signage for difficult slopes and other hazardous conditions.
Blaise T. Carrig, the chief operating officer of the Heavenly Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe, Calif., and the co-president of Vail Resorts Mountain Division, said he thinks a one-size-fits-all approach to slope signage is also not a good idea.
"I think resorts have a lot of unique characteristics, so the idea of standardization of a lot of the signage that they are talking about is pretty difficult. You could wind up with weaker signage rather than stronger signage, "Carrig said.
On the issue of helmets, Carrig said all Heavenly employees are required to wear helmets when they are working on skis. But he said that is more in the way of setting a good example than it is as a way to control, say, workers' comp costs.
THE OTHER BILL
Another bill, by Democratic State Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco, would also require minors to wear helmets but would fine parents of children caught not wearing one.
That may be slightly more palatable from a risk-transfer standpoint for the resort operators.
"If in fact it is legislated at some point in time that helmets are required, it shouldn't be the obligation of the ski area to enforce that. I just think it's going to be unworkable," said Mark Petrozzi, the vice president of risk management for Booth Creek Ski Holdings Inc., a company based in Truckee, Calif., that operates NorthStar-at-Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Like Heavenly's Carrig, Petrozzi said Booth Creek's approach to safety on the slopes involves a lot of education, not only on the benefits of wearing a helmet but also on a helmet's limitations.
Industry studies indicate that skiing helmets lose much of their protective qualities at speeds of more than 13 mph. Research indicates that most recreational skiers travel at speeds faster than 20 mph.
Bob Roberts, the president of the California Ski Industry Association, said member companies know that helmet use is going to increase, especially among young skiers who don't reach the higher speeds and may benefit more from helmets.
And between the two bills, according to Roberts, Yee's is the more palatable.
"We view it as the more intelligent piece of legislation," Roberts said.
But even Yee's bill has flaws. Parents may bear the burden of the fine if a child isn't wearing a helmet, yet who is going to enforce the rule on the slopes is quite another matter.
Roberts said that ski slopes, which have been crowded by snowboarders in the past couple of decades, are increasingly confrontational places. Even more confrontation is on the way, he feels, with the helmet bills that are now being considered in both houses of the California state legislature.
March 22, 2010
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