Winter in south Texas is usually not a big deal, but that doesn’t stop many residents for heading for the slopes in Colorado, Wyoming and other northwestern states. Packing up the family for a winter vacation of skiing and snowboarding can be lots of fun, but if a loved one suffers a concussion after taking a spill, the consequences can wind up being quite severe.
Winter sports and traumatic brain injuries
Schussing down the slopes is exhilarating and provides excellent cardio exercise, but there is a heightened risk of falling and suffering a concussive blow to the head. Snowboarders, too, gamble each time they climb aboard the lift for another downhill run.
Many think that all they need to do to protect themselves is exercise normal caution and gear up properly, e.g., donning a ski helmet and other protective clothing. But just how much protection does a ski helmet provide?
The jury is still out on that. According to a report from The New York Times, more snowboarders and skiers are wearing helmets on the slopes than ever before, but there has been no correlation between helmet use and a reduction in the number of traumatic brain injuries and fatalities from winter sports in America.
Industry experts attribute this to helmets failing to fully protect skiers’ and boarders’ heads from injuries, coupled with the increasingly risky stunts and high speeds daredevils engage in on the slopes. Actions like skiing out of bounds and on runs that exceed the skiers’ skill levels contribute to the problem as well.
What a ski helmet will and will not do
Simply wearing a helmet is not going to prevent all ski and snowboarding injuries and deaths. There are limits to the protection a helmet can provide. Helmets can definitely reduce the likelihood of skiers or snowboarders suffering head injuries and lessen the severity of those injuries that occur. However, helmets are most effective when those wearing them are skiing or boarding under 14 miles per hour.
Obviously, some on the slopes will travel at faster speeds than that. Additionally, boarders and skiers who tumble uncontrollably down an incline are at risk of slamming into another skier, tree or other stationary object like a rock or hard patch of ice. Wearing a helmet should not imbue skiers with a false sense of security that—because they are wearing a helmet—they are protected from head injuries. Regardless, the recommendation from the National Ski Areas Association is that snowboarders and skiers wear helmets. Helmet use may potentially reduce head injuries by up to 50 percent, which could make the difference between a minor injury and a tragedy.
The Skier’s Responsibility Code
NSAA encourages all who venture out onto the slopes to use common sense when heading down the mountain on boards and skis. To that end, they came up with a responsibility code for all to follow, as some risks will always exist with the sport, but can be mitigated by one’s actions on the downhill runs. Below are the seven points of the code:
- Remain in control of yourself so you can avoid hazards and other skiers and be able to stop when necessary.
- Remember that those ahead of you on the runs have the right of way and you are responsible for avoiding colliding with them.
- Never stop and obstruct the trails or stop anywhere that you cannot be seen by those above you on the runs.
- When skiing downhill and merging onto trails, always look uphill and yield to those headed your way.
- Use safety devices to stop equipment from getting away from you on the slopes and becoming a hazard to others.
- Observe the warning signs that are posted. Stay off trails that are closed and any areas that are marked as off limits.
- Before mounting a lift, all skiers need to have the ability to safely load up, ride and download from the lift.
While following these tenets can help keep skiers and snowboarders from suffering concussions, no matter how safely one behaves on the slopes and runs, some danger remains.
Responsibilities of the resorts
At what point do the resorts themselves have to shoulder some of the blame for the traumatic brain injuries their guests suffer? Are they to blame at all for the hazards boarders and skiers face?
They very well might be. While all individual accident circumstances are different, ski resorts are no different than any other business that is governed by premises liability laws. All have a duty to run a business that is as hazard-free as possible, but when your business involves guests slaloming down a mountainside, some risks are inherent.
A malfunctioning chairlift that causes a skier or boarder to fall and suffer a concussion would be a hazard for which the resort and its insurers could be found liable. But statistically speaking, those riding a chairlift up a mountain are considered to be five times less likely to have a fatal injury than those riding on an elevator, the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded.
Ski resorts should monitor the slopes for dangerous safety transgressions by boarders and skiers and revoke the privileges of those who routinely flout the rules and endanger others. Allowing intoxicated guests to access the slopes could also potentially open up a resort to legal liability if an impaired guest causes another guest to suffer a concussion or other injury.
Staying safe on the slopes is everyone’s responsibility
Most resorts employ ski patrols who monitor the runs and guide those with limited experience to the bunny slopes and away from the more advanced runs, which should clearly be marked as unsafe for beginners. Offering ski lessons to neophytes also helps to ensure that they are taught correctly and according to the skier’s code. But unsafe skiers can slip through the cracks and still endanger others with irresponsible behaviors, “hot-dogger” moves that exceed their skill level and other hazards. Resorts that offer extreme sporting activities like heli-skiing can be particularly vulnerable to lawsuits from injured participants.
If you or your loved ones suffer a concussion on the slopes, you may have the right to pursue a claim for damages against one or more individuals or entities. To learn more about your rights after a concussion, contact one of the concussion attorneys at Shrader & Associates.