The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit is at it again! The news group has analyzed injury data from the National Ski Areas Association from 2005 to 2012 and concludes that, according to the NSAA, during those eight seasons, an average of 47 people were seriously injured (defined as paralysis, broken neck or back, traumatic brain injuries, and other serious injuries) at resorts nationwide. That is a mere 47 serious injuries out of more than 50 million annual visits to ski areas.

Contrast that average with the data NBC Bay Area obtained from the state, medical staff treated an average of 6,884 California residents a year for ski or snowboard related injuries including a fractured head or neck (18 per year), fractured backs (101 per year) and traumatic brain injuries (avg. 798 per year), in addition to sprains and strains.

While there is no independent system for tracking accidents and trends at resorts, California Department of Public Health does track the number of skiers and snowboarders that turn up in emergency rooms throughout the state.  Dr. Warren Withers is the medical director of the emergency room at Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe. It’s an area surrounded by the area’s major ski resorts.  Withers told NBC Bay Area he would find it hard to imagine there are only 47 serious injuries a year based on what he sees in his emergency room.

During ski season, Withers said his ER sees patients everyday coming from the ski resorts. At least once a week, he said, those injuries will require overnight care.

Avid skier and writer Bob Berwyn has been covering the ski industry for decades in Colorado where accident details are also kept hidden from the public.  Berwyn argues that increasing the transparency of accident data would increase safety for everyone on the mountain.

Dr. Withers agrees that transparent accident data can play a huge role in preventing future deaths and injuries on the mountain.

In April, NBC Bay Area spoke with Bob Roberts with the California Ski Industry Association who maintained that the there is no public demand for the ski industry to release accident details.  The ski industry says there have been amazing strides in reducing fatalities and injuries over the decades to the point where they are now a rare occurrence.  To read the full article, Ski Areas Under Reporting Accidents.  

Those of us who hear from injured skiers and snowboarders every ski season find this to be a puzzling assessment.  As ski lawyers, we know first-hand that serious ski accident injuries are not “a rare occurrence.”

Several California ski safety bills have been introduced in the last decade that would have required resorts to make their accident data public. Those bills were vetoed by both Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown, based upon the conclusion that they were redundant and unnecessary.  The latest bill may be heard again later this spring.

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