In 2012, 71 year-old Dave Owens was seriously injured at Copper Mountain Resort by a snowboarder who collided with him and then left the scene. Following the accident, the Frisco resident has been on a campaign to prevent reckless skiing and hit-and-run accidents.
Owens has contacted about 20 people over the last three years, including law-enforcement officials, lawyers, ski-area managers, local and state government representatives and U.S. Forest Service employees. Owens has a two-prong approach: compel resorts to publicly report in-area accidents so that the resorts are further incentivized to reduce the number, and better educate skiers and riders about their legal obligations.
Ski areas currently send their injury information to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), which compiles and releases detailed statistics and trends annually. However, NSAA routinely under-reports the number of accidents, particularly fatalities. Owens wants the raw data made public, without the whitewashing and compiling across geographic areas.
Owens argues that since most U.S. resorts occupy public land through the U.S. Forest Service, the resorts should be accountable to the public. White River National Forest spokesman Bill Kight said the Forest Service doesn’t collect accident statistics or fatality records from individual resorts. None of the federal agency’s special-use permit holders are required to provide such information, he said, and forcing ski resorts to do so would take a national policy change.
In a statement from the state’s ski-area association, Colorado Ski Country USA, provided by spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph, the association said it would be nearly impossible for ski areas to accurately track the variety of injuries from twisted ankles and thumb jams to serious life-threatening injuries.
NSAA director of risk and regulatory affairs Dave Byrd said the association will commission a study of injuries every five years instead of every 10, starting in 2016.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office technician Mark Watson said the ski areas coordinate with local law enforcement to try to track down those who flee accidents, especially when a skier or snowboarder could face courts summons, fines and criminal charges.
Proper response takes timely reporting, detailed suspect descriptions and effective communication of information, he said. Though some people are never caught, he said, he doesn’t see hit-and-run collisions as a serious issue. Like most people – until they are the victims of a hit and run on the slopes.