The Wyoming Department of Employment has cited Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for failing to protect ski patroller Kathryn Miller with a helmet when she died in a fall last winter. Miller died of head injuries after falling in Spacewalk Couloir, a steep rock-sided chute at the resort’s Rendezvous Mountain permit area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Following an investigation into her death by the state occupational safety and health branch of the employment department, the agency cited the company for “not ensuring the use of head protection to help prevent or reduce the severity of head injuries.” The citation could be precedent-setting on a topic – helmet use – that has caught the attention of ski areas nationwide, if not internationally.
The resort does not require its patrollers or other ski workers to wear helmets. The Mountain Resort has issued a statement that it will appeal the citation, arguing there were no policies in place at any ski area in the United States at the time that required ski patrols to wear protective headgear. The resort spokesperson declined to provide information on the fine levied against the resort.
The department of employment issued the citation following a routine investigation of a workplace death. Miller fell on March 19 while on duty and checking out ski conditions with another patroller at the out-of-bounds run.
The resort told the local paper following the accident that Miller was not wearing a helmet. Company policy is to encourage employees to investigate the potential benefits of helmets, officials said at the time. At the preliminary appeals meeting with the state agency, the Mountain Resort will argue that no ski resorts in the country required employees to wear helmets at the time of Miller’s death.
The National Ski Area Association confirms the assertion that at the time of Kathryn Miller’s accident, of the 400-plus ski areas in the United States, none required employees to wear helmets. But there have been changes in the months since Miller’s death. In April, Vail Resorts announced it would make helmets mandatory for all employees skiing or riding on the job beginning with the 2009-10 winter season. See Helmets for Vail Employees Required.
The policy will be put in place at all five of the company’s resorts: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly. The policy also requires children ages 12 and under, who participate in a group lesson, to wear a helmet.
According to a study released by the National Ski Areas Association in June, 48 percent of skiers and boarders use helmets, up from 43 percent the year before. The association promotes the use of helmets, although the effectiveness of the head gear is a frequent topic for debate. The use of helmets continues to be a contentious subject in the ski industry, brought to the front pages following the death of actress Natasha Richardson on March 18 after a fall on a beginners’ slope at Mount Tremblant, Quebec. She was not wearing a helmet.