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School Kids caught in avalanche on closed piste

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
SkiPresto wrote:
The group should have been led by several fully qualified ski instructors, and full training should have been carried out well in advance. However in this case, it was a school holiday, not a mountain skills course.

I hope the throw the book at all of those responsible, and that is the school management. Not just this teacher.
Media reports are beginning to say that the leader of the school group was a (former?) Evo2 and/or ESF instructor.
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Really appreciate everyone on here trying to make sense of this tragic incident....

I also, am feel deeply saddened and a bit disturbed that this happened, but there isn't anything, that anyone has said, not one single rationalization, that has made this 'feel' better... it is just a terrible, terrible tragedy.

Bright lives ended short, parents living with the parent's worst nightmare, and other young people forever missing their brother or sister, because of something that was seemingly so senseless...
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under a new name wrote:
@Levi215, in 2013 there were 1,713 road deaths in the UK.

Doesn't stop anyone driving round to Tesco's for a pint of milk does it?


No indeed but that wasn't my point...
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@SkiPresto, I'm not sure I follow? I doubt throwing any book at anyone will make a difference? I saw 100s of students age (18-20) this week; not prepared in terms of Avalanche equipment nor, from what I could tell, in terms of ability and skiing closed runs and off piste.... It's a sad event but accidents do and will happen. Those who take note can try and learn from them, those who aren't interested won't and will continue blissfully unaware.

This forum is certainly not representative of the 'snow community' as a whole (as far as my limited experience allows me to judge).
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Quote:

Bright lives ended short

the same could be said of that poor young boy in the Chatel area who died when his rucksack got caught on the chairlift and he couldn't get off. The lift attendant didn't stop the lift in time. Another young live ending too soon.
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Another fatal avalanche reported from near Verbier, 2 dead and 2 seriously injured: http://www.planetski.eu/news/7605 Sad
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Levi215 wrote:
@SkiPresto, I'm not sure I follow? I doubt throwing any book at anyone will make a difference? I saw 100s of students age (18-20) this week; not prepared in terms of Avalanche equipment nor, from what I could tell, in terms of ability and skiing closed runs and off piste.... It's a sad event but accidents do and will happen. Those who take note can try and learn from them, those who aren't interested won't and will continue blissfully unaware.

This forum is certainly not representative of the 'snow community' as a whole (as far as my limited experience allows me to judge).


Well, what I mean by "throwing the book at those responsible" would be to say:
Quote:
This wasn't an accident: It was manslaughter.
In the same way as e.g. a fatal discharge of a firearm would be manslaughter. Anyone found guilty of manslaughter will very likely go to jail for several years.
Many years, if the judge decides to make an example of this school's staff "pour encourager les autres".

My definition of a "Closed Run" is that it's "Off-piste", and therefore full kit needs to be carried, and groups need to be small and extremely well-managed by qualified leaders.
And even then, the leaders need to get permission from the pisteurs to go on it in case the slope is being worked on by machines, or if cables are in use, or if it is being blasted to release avalanches, or if there are dangerous rocks or ice and so on and on.
And obviously, anyone who knows that slope would know it had never been open this season, and would have been treacherously dangerous after the new snow. So no pisteur would have advised skiing it - let alone a large school group.

There is a huge difference in consequences between being on-piste and being off-piste if you are a school leader of a group of pupils on holiday.
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Alastair Pink wrote:
Another fatal avalanche reported from near Verbier, 2 dead and 2 seriously injured: http://www.planetski.eu/news/7605 Sad


Trying to work out where in La Tzoumaz that was. I've spent about 20 days skiing that area. From the looks of it, it was likely not on the itinerary, but in the trees in La Tzoumaz itself
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SkiPresto wrote:
... what I mean by "throwing the book at those responsible" would be to say:
Quote:
This wasn't an accident: It was manslaughter.

My definition of a "Closed Run" is that it's "Off-piste", and therefore full kit needs to be carried, and groups need to be small and extremely well-managed by qualified leaders....
There is a huge difference in consequences between being on-piste and being off-piste if you are a school leader of a group of pupils on holiday.

I'll bite, on a glass of Pinot Noir (definitely not French).

My personal understanding of "closed" is more stringent than yours. Off piste is just off piste; closed areas are places where you're forbidden to go. But the French definition is what matters....

It's unreasonable to argue that the school party person should treat that closed sign any differently from the resort authorites, the ESF instructors, guides, and other people there. To avoid this, the resort could have policed the closed area or controlled the avalanche risk, but they did neither. I don't know if this is acceptable in French law or not, but that's where I'd be looking for liability, probably civil.

Demanding a higher standard of care from school parties than that which can be given by parents or the resorts themselves won't work.
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@philwig "closed areas are places where you're forbidden to go. "
Yes, I agree with that, and I admit that my straight definition of closed run meaning offpiste isn't complete. But I'd hoped to have clarified it with my subsequent comments.
Any school teacher tasked with leading a group of pupils on a ski holiday should really understand that all closed runs are forbidden no matter what pressure they are under from their juvenile charges.
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According to the Daily Mail, the teacher has now been charged with Involuntary Homicide

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3402790/French-teacher-led-students-closed-piste-avalanche-killed-two-charged-manslaughter.html
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Quote:
The ski slope was closed by a 50-metre long (164ft) and one-metre high (3.2ft) net with advisory signs in different languages, and the group deliberately stepped over it to access the slope, Prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat said earlier this week.


You don't have to step over it, just go round the side of it as I did several times the previous day. Cant believe its 50m either, just across piste entrance. Can't really be missed though. Not the usual Fail crap though.
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I work in France in an environment with significant risks to human health. One huge difference between here and the Anglophone world is health and safety. In the UK, much emphasis is placed on understanding human nature, and actively preventing people from breaking the rules. In a skiing context, this might be e.g. keeping lifts closed to limit access to dangerous terrain. In France, the rules are there, and one has much more freedom to decide to follow them or not. For adults undertaking actions which only affect themselves, this works really well... Of course, should something go wrong, expect to receive a "faute grave" or similar, which is one of the only easy ways to get sacked in France. For example, we recently had a flood in our facility, and got the full inspection treatment from H&S, ransacking cupboards and looking for more infractions like that bottle of wine you forgot about in the laboratory fridge...

I am therefore not surprised that the pisteurs at L2A seem not to have acted on seeing people choosing to ski a closed piste. In fact, the only time I have seen them actively chasing skiers is, as described above, when they are trying to preserve a few pistes for the impending Paris school holidays. Anyway, I will be there next week, and it will be interesting to see if there are any obvious changes in the posture of resort staff.
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Lots and lots of signs about here now about dangers of hors piste atm, FB pages of resort and local pisteurs sharing lots of info too. I have seen pisteurs and even gendarmes posted at the top of closed pistes here in the past when they were particularly dangerous.

Lots of gazex around in the area where the avalanche occurred, not sure whether there was an issue there.
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Last year in Les Deux Alpes the gendarmes were out of force after a man died on the Diable black run. They were patrolling all the closed areas. The Diable was closed due to poor conditions at Easter. A friend told us that he was on the chairlift at the time of the tragedy. He saw the guy begin his descent, he lost control and literally slid down the entire run. The man hit some rocks at the bottom and sadly lost his life. The piste was closed and obviously so. Terribly sad but again a lesson to be learnt.
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@Michelle63, I skied Valentine which was equally as dangerous that day and wished I hadn't. Lot of big falls on there too with some serious but not fatal injuries.
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As many have said, we really need to wait for the enquiry. I've led school groups in past and a couple of kids in the group have shot off down in a direction somewhere they weren't supposed to. You have two choices: Let them ski off on their own and lose them or follow them with the rest of the group.

I had a couple of boarders bomb ahead of us on a blue run and turn right down a closed, steep, icey black with bare patches everywhere. They had been told exactly where we were going but, kids being kids, off they went in front of us. The run was a couple of miles long with no exits. I stopped the others, pelted it down to them and made them walk back up with me. Had more followed them, or they had got further down, or the rest of the group been better skiers, I may had to take the whole group down to keep us together. I had a split second to make a decision. Nothing is clear cut.

6 months later I'm doing the school ski party leader's recap course and being told we can't lead students anymore on the mountain and that they would have to be in lessons at all times unless we did the one week mountain course allowing us to lead students on blue runs only. All of the teachers on the course were outraged. Most of us we very experienced skiers/ mountain walkers who'd led students all over Europe in different activities. We'd also seen how badly and dangerously many instructors had led our students -off piste, losing students off the back of groups etc. etc. Now, I'm glad the decision was taken out of my hands and I wouldn't dream of leading school groups on the mountain, simply because of the possible ramifications if something goes wrong.

Teaching is frought with situations where pupils can get themselves in to difficult and, ultimately, the teacher is responsible. As a Science teacher you can tell the students to wear safety goggles but it only takes one student to take them off whilst your back is turned and damage thier eyes and you have to face the consequences.

Some teachers are more safety conscious than others, as are ski instructors. This particular incident is tragic. It could be that the teacher was grossly negligent or maybe they took a decision to keep a group together thinking that was less risky than letting youngsters ski off on their own. Until the outcomes of the investigations are clear, we just don't know and shouldn't judge.

Two things have become apparent from reading this thread and, to most us, highlight something that we already knew:

People, all over Europe, regulalry ski around barriers on to closed areas.
People regularly ski off piste above other pistes and other skiers.

This has been part of skiing culture in Europe for as long as I've been skiing and things need to change.

North America has led the way in controlling skier behaviour, mainy because it's so much easier to succesfully sue somebody over there and many resorts closed because of it.

There are gong to be three drivers to improve skier behaviour in Europe:

Insurance companies - only insuring resorts with strict skier management policies and rules.
Legislation. Laws and fines for breaking rules in resort.
A shift in culture - making things socially unnacceptable and changing custom and practice - like drink driving, for example

Sadly, it often takes disaster to change things, as with many walks of life.
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cameronphillips2000 wrote:


.....
North America has led the way in controlling skier behaviour, mainy because it's so much easier to succesfully sue somebody over there and many resorts closed because of it.


......
Sadly, it often takes disaster to change things, as with many walks of life.


Actually i'm glad that we are completely different to North America, a place which in so many ways provides the worst example for how things should be done.

I'm also glad that France and other European countries do have a different view to risk, H&S and personal responsibility to people in the UK. It does mean we have occasional tragedies that people can then shout 'things must change' but luckily, we in the UK are not running things over there.
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I do not believe there will be much change after this event.

People will continue ski off piste without proper planning, preparation, skills or safety equipment exposing themselves and others to increased risk....not forgetting those that are called to go and help in emergencies.

I find it a surprise every time that someone stops me on the piste to ask for help, only to discover that they do not even know the emergency number for the country/region they are in.

You could compare snowsports to driving. Increased insurance premiums and legislation does little to improve the road death rate, but people quickly complain about the higher costs or changes in laws/penalties.
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Cameronphilips2000 - excellent post, I agree with school safety analysis. Do we think 3 deaths are enough to change a culture though? A tragedy yes but, statistically, we would need to look at yearly resort death statistics to find whether this is chance or 'more' than for a 'normal' year. I suspect it xan be explained by chance. And then we need to look at population perception - people will be horrified by this but other than families and the school affected, others involved in the rescue, people will forget and move on. The real driver for change, in my opinion, would be potential financial loss ( as in America) - it will be interesting to see where blame is assigned in this case. If 'everyone is doing it' and the pupils skied on, I think it sounds like the teacher could try to divert blame to the resort.


Last edited by Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do. on Sun 17-01-16 16:24; edited 2 times in total
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Teachers probably have enough responsibility without leading students around a mountain. But there are probably many points for/against.
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emwmarine wrote:


Actually i'm glad that we are completely different to North America, a place which in so many ways provides the worst example for how things should be done.



How much skiing experience of North America do you have?

There's plenty of freedom to hurt yourself however you want but they do have a very clear and organised approach to safety which enables many more ( proportionately) people to enjoy off piste safely. When an inbounds area is closed that's usually because they are blasting or it is otherwise unsafe. You have to be REALLY dumb if you want to poach in those circumstances. European ambiguity seems to be part of the problem - it's fine celebrating personal choice but we all know that plenty of people are clueless and worse.
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Good Post @Cameronphillips2000 - less radical, but still quite effective is: more ski patrol, and yanking passes of reckless skiers.

They also do that in the states, they pull your pass and ask questions later. Already seeing that someone is getting their pass yanked, makes you pay a bit more attention
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Sorry to say but I think North America actually has it right it terms of risk management at ski resorts. You can ski 'off piste' in relative safety and your toddlers are far less likely to be wiped out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph down a nursery slope. I don't want to be skiing on a slope with a bunch of inexperienced , untrained, folk trying out the powder in a avi zone above my head, is that unreasonable? In Italy it is illegal for example. We have the right to freedom on the mountain but, with rights, come responsibiltities.

There have been cultural changes in skiing (helmets, carrying avi gear off piste) and there will continue to be.

I'm also not too keen on this 'As long as it doesn't affect anyone else' approach to health and safety. Tragic events will stay with the rescuers and medics for the rest of thier lives. I have a good friend who is a paramedic has been through all kinds of trauma dealing with the consequences of somebody taking unnacceptable risks. I've been to too many 'died too young' funerals. When I was young I was a risk taker and did soe stupuid things. Looking back I needed the wisdom of age to restrain me through legislation or managing the culture.

Life is for living and we can't stop having fun or wrap our children in cotton wool. But we can learn from accidents and change things to try and avoid them in the future.

I was putting up a display at an exhibition last month. I was standing on a table. The health and safety manager came over and told me I had to use a step ladder or would have to stop. I got a bit arsey with him saying the table was far more stable and had a wider base than my stepladder. At the end of the event I went up and apologised and thanked him. He was just doing his job which is, ultimately, to try and keep me and others safe whilst working in a potnetially dangerous environment. Being told what to do is hard sometimes. But not as hard as burying a loved one.
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Went over it 3 times on the lift this morning, still closed. A couple of guys skiing it, only tracks I could see. Couple of pisteurs next time 10 minutes later.
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This accident has had distinct affect in the French ski industry, at least amongst what Patrol and Lift ops are doing in Chamonix, Megeve etc.
Anywhere with high avie danger is now posted as such and roped off in such a way that you have to make a real effort to get round the ropes - this was on the GM today in Chamonix.

All the lower and lower angle stuff was getting skied anyway - but then you were going to thrash you r skis on the wind exposed rocks.

Also for the first time in a French lift the lifty gave a sever avalanche breefing to everyone in the top bin - ok her English version was quite short and crummy. But she (in French) told everyone not to ski below the Pylons piste and that the whole slope had fractured when patrol had inspected it this morning and some mumblings about if you go down there you will not be rescued for a few days.

The only ones (at least by 2.30) who disobeyed were some French ski bums - all of whom have lost friends to avalanches - bloody stupid and selfish!
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cameronphillips2000 wrote:
Sorry to say but I think North America actually has it right it terms of risk management at ski resorts. You can ski 'off piste' in relative safety and your toddlers are far less likely to be wiped out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph down a nursery slope. I don't want to be skiing on a slope with a bunch of inexperienced , untrained, folk trying out the powder in a avi zone above my head, is that unreasonable? In Italy it is illegal for example. We have the right to freedom on the mountain but, with rights, come responsibiltities.

^^^ and there is that.

I'm still shocked at what I see in terms of recklessness here. There were at least 6-8 times in Tignes over Christmas, where I thought - - "If you were skiing like that in the states, and ski patrol saw this, your pass would be GONE!".

My father did Saturday ski patrol at Park City when I was kid, and I tell you, I got scolded plenty for not behaving on the pistes. I was told, under no uncertain terms, his privileged position or not, reckless behavior would not be tolerated. If one of his ski patrol buddies snatched my badge - that would be that. I could count him doing *absolutely nothing* for me.

So, yes, this shapes my opinion....


Last edited by And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports. on Sun 17-01-16 20:01; edited 1 time in total
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I skied a closed black piste in Chamonix last year (Brevent home run) - but that was after a conversation with the pisteurs as to why it was closed, and what did they think. They confirmed it was only closed because they hadn't had time to groom and mark it yet, but were happy for people to ski it if they knew the route and were comfortable on ungroomed snow.

I've always found the pistuers in general, in Chamonix at least, to be very happy to have a chat about conditions that day, why things are marked particular ways etc. But how many people do actually stop for a chat with them?

Anyway - this accident has been a terrible tragedy, but I hope at the least it does increase awareness among people about the risks they (we) face.
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
emwmarine wrote:


Actually i'm glad that we are completely different to North America, a place which in so many ways provides the worst example for how things should be done.



How much skiing experience of North America do you have?


None. I should have been clearer in my post, I was having a broader pop at North America than just skiing.
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@cameronphillips2000,

+1

We had a lovely day around the Grand Massif today but as usual saw the endemic over-throttle-under-control (one potentially horrendous near miss) and none of the gear and less of the idea off piste.

I think you'll find that the legal sides are (in principle) covered. E.g. Should the enquiry in this instance find someone at fault then they'll face some pretty unpleasant consequences.

Insurance? Sadly, if the resorts have limited responsibility for behaviour (which is entirely correct) a. I suspect that many of the off piste "skiers" don't realise that their insurance won't cover them and b. The heavy financial burden will be borne by surviving relatives.

Culture? Ok, we're a mature group with much on and off piste experience of many kinds. Would we ski off piste without kit?

Of course.

Do we routinely carry kit on piste planned days? Almost always, just in case.

But none of us are 21 any more ( Sad ) and have hopefully learned something after all the £££ and time spent...

And several of us have lost friends or acquaintances to avalanches.

Getting that cultural lesson broadly across to every generation is a challenge.
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under a new name wrote:

Culture? Ok, we're a mature group with much on and off piste experience of many kinds. Would we ski off piste without kit?

Of course.


Is there a "not" missing at the end?
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@Alastair Pink, no.

Kit doesn't prevent an avalanche.

E.g. Light but deepish 15cms powder, solid base, gentle gradient, nothing above?

Why not? Been doing it for years. (N.b. Heuristic trap).
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cameronphillips2000 wrote:
Sorry to say but I think North America actually has it right it terms of risk management at ski resorts. You can ski 'off piste' in relative safety and your toddlers are far less likely to be wiped out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph down a nursery slope. I don't want to be skiing on a slope with a bunch of inexperienced , untrained, folk trying out the powder in a avi zone above my head, is that unreasonable? In Italy it is illegal for example. We have the right to freedom on the mountain but, with rights, come responsibiltities.

While North America has a completely different concept on "ski resorts", a lot of the "good experience" of European skiers encountered in N.A. resort are just a small sample of a few particular region that may not represent the reality of skiing in North America. In the northeast or mid-Atlantic, you're just as likely to get wiped out by a 17 year old doing 50mph!!!

And even that "balance" is different from resort to resort. Some resorts are well known for opening slopes that are barely covered. They may stick a sign of "Thin Cover" on the entrance and be done with it. Other resort may not open something until every small ridge got flatten by the groomer!

Quote:

North America has led the way in controlling skier behaviour, mainy because it's so much easier to succesfully sue somebody over there and many resorts closed because of it.

That's not the reason. The reason is because they can take your pass away.

That's particularly helpful in curbing the behavior of the LOCALS, who tend to have season passes. That way, they won't be emulated by clueless visitors.
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^^^

and they do take passes away. It isn't an idle threat.
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. . .my experience of the States (limited to 4x weeks in Vail) is now over 25 years old . . .and they were definately pulling passes then. Slow ski zones were clearly marked and I personally witnessed it happening to several - this made a mark on me as a 100% reckless teenager/20 something and I made sure it didn't happen to me . . .I agree with previous posters that this is an easy way of enforcing change; for the benefit of all and not just the few . . .
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I think you're missing the point @ABC. They're pulling passes because they don't want to be sued for having unruly pistess when someone gets taken out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph in the ski lift queues.

I've skied a far bit in North America. All the resorts threaten to pull your pass if you're sking like a dick. I didn't like that when I skied like a dick. I do now.
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cameronphillips2000 wrote:
I think you're missing the point @ABC. They're pulling passes because they don't want to be sued for having unruly pistess when someone gets taken out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph in the ski lift queues.

I've skied a far bit in North America. All the resorts threaten to pull your pass if you're sking like a dick. I didn't like that when I skied like a dick. I do now.


That's a bit harsh - I think there is an element that they genuinely don't wanting people getting injured. A genuine concern for people.

But the pulling the passes sends a message about obeying rules, and it extends itself out to pistes that are marked as closed, because they'll pull your pass for that as well.

There are enough 'rules' here, but they enforced more like 'suggestions' and that is what needs to changes. There needs to be boundaries.
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cameronphillips2000 wrote:
I think you're missing the point @ABC. They're pulling passes because they don't want to be sued for having unruly pistess when someone gets taken out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph in the ski lift queues.

I respectfully disagree.

When someone is taken out by a reckless teenager, the lawsuit is typically directed at the perpetrator, not the resort. It's next to impossible to prove in court a resort has unusually "unruly pistes" compare to the industry norm.

Resorts never particularly like unruly, out of control skiers because they're left dealing with the transport of the injured even without lawsuit. Still, most resorts don't like to enforce skier behavior. They only do that when the unruly behavior is affecting the overall enjoyment of the mountain. If they don't control that behavior, the customer will not re-book for next year! Some mountains are well known to be more strict in the enforcement than others. Some customers do choose their destination with that issue in mind.
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abc wrote:
cameronphillips2000 wrote:
I think you're missing the point @ABC. They're pulling passes because they don't want to be sued for having unruly pistess when someone gets taken out by a 17 year old doing 50 mph in the ski lift queues.

I respectfully disagree.

When someone is taken out by a reckless teenager, the lawsuit is typically directed at the perpetrator, not the resort. It's next to impossible to prove in court a resort has unusually "unruly pistes" compare to the industry norm.

Resorts never particularly like unruly, out of control skiers because they're left dealing with the transport of the injured even without lawsuit. Still, most resorts don't like to enforce skier behavior. They only do that when the unruly behavior is affecting the overall enjoyment of the mountain. If they don't control that behavior, the customer will not re-book for next year! Some mountains are well known to be more strict in the enforcement than others. Some customers do choose their destination with that issue in mind.


I can see your point but the lawsuits are generally aimed at who has the most money. Putting a few thousand people on a mountain and 'not supervising them properly' means the resort is liable for everything that can wrong.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-utah-lawsuit-idUSKCN0RT2K220150929

Insurance companies won't insure you against litigation unless you have all sorts of policies in place. I'm sure there is a genuine culture of care in many US ski resorts. Many also want the perception of having responsible skiers - some even ban boarders. But the bottom line on health and safety is driven by fear of litigation.
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i'm not sure there needs to be any rule changes or anything drastic at all. Would be nice to see some reckless people in europe suffer the consequences of disregarding EXISTING rules on piste, but short of banning people from the mountains, i'm not sure how you enforce anything else off piste, so sadly it's likely that any action taken will always be retrospective. ie, prosecuting those who cause injury or worse and those who endanger others or themselves after the event.

It's no different to the people who get blown off Striding Edge at seemingly regular intervals. Do you ban inexperienced ramblers or educate them?
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