or Connect
EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › On the Snow (Skiing Forums) › General Skiing Discussion › Informal poll on life-threatening skiing hazards
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Informal poll on life-threatening skiing hazards

post #1 of 59
Thread Starter 
How many of you know someone who was killed while skiing?

I know it's a morbid question but I have a reason for asking. I recently moved from the Bay Area to Georgia and, obviously, my frequent day-trips to the Sierra have come to an end.

As a substitute, I decided to try the sport of whitewater kayaking by taking a professionally-led clinic. As I'm learning more about the sport, I'm a bit surprised by the number of horror stories I hear on the river. Sure, many are urban legends and many are used simply to ensure everyone understands that ww rivers are dangerous but it certainly seems that the fatality rate is far higher than other sports. While most experienced kayakers insist it's safer than most sports, a similar informal poll like this one revealed that MOST of them know someone who died.

I've been skiing for over 25 years and have skied with hundreds of different people. I've skied some of the toughest runs in North America and Europe; in bounds, out of bounds. I've heliskied and hiked faces to ski and skied with folks who did a lot more dangerous stuff than that. But I have YET to meet anyone who personally knew someone who died skiing.
post #2 of 59
In somewhere around 40 years of skiing, much tamer than what you describe, the last 15 as ski patrol, I have not known anyone personally that died skiing either. I'm including patients in that total.

Around here we have bad decades when there are 2 or 3 deaths at ski areas. It happens, just not very often, thank god!

OTH I have a good friend that hang-glides. He has lost at least 3 friends to accidents flying those. He has not been flying much more than 7 or 8 years tops.
post #3 of 59
Resort skiing is very safe. Although it seems risky, in fact the environment is contolled to minimize risk, and to take care of you if you do get hurt. Backcountry skiing, like whitewater paddling, is far riskier. There are are frequent unmarked hazards, and because of the remoteness of the best locations on the river or in the BC, even a minor injury can become a life threatening ordeal.

I've never known anyone who was killed or even seriously injured while skiing. I know a woman who was paralyzed paddling, and several people killed cycling on the road. those are the dangerous sports.

post #4 of 59
I've had some decent injuries on snow over the past 19 years, and have known a decent amount of people who have sustained a fair amount of injuries, but no one that has been killed on the snow.

I have however seen someone who did die (from an on-snow accident), but he died en-route to the hospital (full speed head first into a tree, out of control - cracked his head open - sorry for the graphic image).

Overall, while there are a fair amount of injurues in skiing and there are a fair amount of inherant dangers, but for the general public, skiing seems to remain a fairly safe sport (unless you decide to try to play football while skiing).
post #5 of 59
Some of the kids from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir school who were killed in an avalanche at Rogers Pass a couple of years ago were pretty good friends of my younger brother. Been pretty lucky amongst my own friends; some close calls, but no deaths - am knocking on wood, now.
post #6 of 59
In 30+ years of skiing, I have not personally known anyone who died as a result of skiing injuries. There was one fatality at our area a couple of years ago (a teenaged male guest). I personally know a few people (instructors, and guests) who have been knocked unconscious for up to several minutes, but thank god, that's about the worst I've seen among my personal acquaintences.

Whitewater gives me the willies. I've always attributed this to my relative lack of skill in this compared to skiing, but I think its more than this. On a rough river, I feel like I'm never more than about 2 feet and 2 minutes away from drowning and all it takes is a foot caught between rocks, or being dumped in a hydraulic to start the clock.

In-bounds on ski mountains, the objective danger is almost completely under your control. Other than the possibility of someone running into you, you can always slow down, sideslip/kickturn your way through a difficult section, etc. BC skiing obviously can have some objective dangers, but once again, by choice of route, companions, safety procedures, attention to weather and snow conditions, knowing when to give up, etc., I feel much more under my control than when on the water. Heck, even when I used to climb, it felt less risky than whitewater.

Have you tried asking the same question on a whitewater forum? If so, what have the responses been?

Tom / PM

PS - There was some recent discussion about this on Epic. I think Gonzo was one of the main participants. If he doesn't chime in, you might want to PM him.
post #7 of 59
Thread Starter 
The question originated on a popular WW board (BoaterTalk.com). I was shocked that most regular paddlers have had AT LEAST one friend die on a river. Most have had several.

This all started after I watched a video of a paddler taking a 10' waterfall in a creek. The paddler had done this drop dozens of times and was clowning around on it. It was obviously a playspot for this group as they were running it over and over. On one trip, though, the guy got caught in the hydraulic at the bottom and couldn't roll his boat back over (he had tossed his paddle to be funny). He eventually exited the boat but the hydraulic retained him for about 4 passes. I think he was submerged for at least 20 seconds between passes.

They had full rescue set up but it failed. A shore-based throw rope was missed. Another boater entered the hydraulic to get him out and this guy got flipped and exited. Finally, a couple more boaters got in there and pulled him out.

The video didn't scare me too much; I know rapids are dangerous. What scared me was how casual the group was about the near-drowning. The video was posted more as way to tease the paddler! It was almost like a skier posting a video of his pro-mogul skiiing buddy falling on a blue run. Ha ha! But skiers falling on blue runs aren't nearly killed like this guy was.

The lightheartedness of the post made me think that near-drownings like this are commonplace. Then, the survey of how many people know someone who died seemed to confirm it.
post #8 of 59
Patrolling over the last 5 years and don't know any people first hand who've died on the slopes and haven't been on a scene with a fatality. Though we've had two fatalities at my mountain since in that time frame.

Know of scads of people who've died in car accidents and a couple of drowinings.

I feel much safer on the slopes than in a car.
post #9 of 59
I have not personally known anyone who has died but I have been in the immediate vicinity (time and place) of 3 deaths that I can remember.

1) Skied an area that was just being opened (Lenin and Marx) with 2 patrollers at Big Sky. Two days later, one of the patrollers was killed in a blasting accident. (The day after I skied those runs they slid to the ground after being blasted and took out the top station and a lift tower or two).

2) Went back country skiing with a guide in Teton Pass the day after a guide from the same group was killed in an avalanche.

3) Was at Jackson Hole this past year when a local skier that at least 3 of my friends knew was killed in an avalanche.

Other than that, I have been skiing a few other times when there were reported deaths, usually from avalanche. But then again, as a sometime backcountry skier I read a lot of avi reports (trying to learn more) and try to stay aware of conditions and risks.

One other severe accident occured to a friend of mine who fell off an unseen drop-off with poor visibility in Vail and had a spinal cord injury. Had a patroller not have happened near soon after the accident he would have suffocated as his face was partially buried and he couldn't move. Luckily the comlete SCI injury was only temporary and has turned into a partial injury that allows him to walk and use his arms but with permanent impairment.
post #10 of 59
I have only personally known one person who has died while skiing. Bob died while skiing Aspen Highlands. It must have been a freak accident. nobody saw what happened. So nobody knows for sure what went wrong. We only know that he was found in the snow below a cattrack. He was face down in what was called a soft avalanche. If he had been consious he could have easily gotten himself out. Bob was a great guy.He was friends with Billionaires as well as your everyday local ski bum. He loved life and loved people.
post #11 of 59
By far, the most dangerous part of skiing is driving to the hill; when you combine tourists in rental cars who come from snow-free climates and locals driving like fury to get to the powder fields, you have a receipe for disaster.
post #12 of 59
I have known one. She was my daughter's age and they had been schoolmates in a DoDD's middle school in Germany. She had come to the states to attend a university and died from head injuries while night skiing at Brighton, Utah.
post #13 of 59
No friends lost, thankfully. Here in the Pacific Northwest. We have several ski and snowboard deaths per year.

- Snowboarders who go out of bounds by themselves and go off a cliff, alone.
- Snowboarders go head-down into a tree well and suffocate, usually alone.
- Had one hucking snowboarder go head-down into soft snow and suffocated before his friends could get to him.
- The one that bothers me most is a skier at Crystal Mt., WA, who skiing down Campbell Basin, died after falling into a tree well.

In my ski group, had a lady who fainted - stumbled off the top of Crystal's REX chair and tumbled over a small cliff. She was a carry-down. She ended up getting a pacemaker.

For injuries, I have banged up my knees and pulled the muscles in my neck - the next day I was on major pain killers.

I believe skiing is pretty safe. I believe in helmets, not so much for falling, but as insurance in case someone runs over me. Most injuries I've heard about were from collisions.

Yes, driving can be dangerous. It's not uncommon to see cars flipped over from miscalculating the black ice. Saw an Army ski bus rolled over, all the guys appeared to be OK.
post #14 of 59
Funny that this thread came up, because even thought it is still summer, the first day of skiing is closer than the last one, and everyone in the office is again concerned - "Isn't skiing dangerous?" Well, in certian terms yes, but since I live in North Carolina, most people are not accustomed to skiing and therefore think it is dangerous. They would rather take up "safer" sports such as :

Boating - I have one one friend killed by a jetski, and nearly lost my leg and/or life when I was in a boating accident.

Bowling - I don't know of anyone who was killed bowling, however during my coaching days, I have seen people break hips from thinking it was safe to walk beyond the foul line and slip on the oil; break their arms while working on the machinery; and one poor kid who decided to stick his arm down a ball return, and ended up getting skinned.

Climbing - Surprisingly, no deaths although there was almost one this weekend at Pilot Mountain, when a pair of people - one who did not know how to lead, and the other who did not know how to belay decided they would try a 5.11 sport route. Needless to say, the leader did not place his pro correctly, took a long fall, and drug his belayer across the rocks at the bottom of the climb.

I guess my point is that regarless of injury rates, people are going to feel more comfortable doing what they grew up with. I've been skiing for 25 years, and have never had a serious injury or death occur to someone I knew, although there was one kid in college who raced in teh same league I did that crashed on a race course at Wintergreen and slid into a gully with no snow it, knocking himself unconsious and breaking some bones.

So to answer your question, no I have not known anyone who died while skiing, and feel that skiing is still relatively safe when conpared to other activities if you know what you are doing.
post #15 of 59
Your question prompted me to start adding it up:

I have known personally four people who were killed in avalanches (two were ski patrollers), one who died of suffocation from falling in a tree well, two who fell while extreme skiing on exposed slopes, and one from a collision with a tree.

Of those, three were pretty good friends and the others were skiing acquaintances. It's kind of a sobering thought, I guess, but that covers 35 years of skiing.


May they all rest in peace.
post #16 of 59
I've been skiing 30 years and do not know of anyone personaly killed. I know of one person who broke his back while attempting a back flip off a cornice. He was a high school spring board diver but I guess landing a back flip off a cornice with a pair of skis is a little bit different than doing it into a swimming pool.

My best friend spent 2 years patrolling at Loon Mtn, NH. They had a guy die of a heart attack on the slopes. He was an elderly man who was over weight.
post #17 of 59
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies. Very interesting discussions here and on BoaterTalk. If you're interested, here's a link to the video that started it all: http://www.yucc.org.uk/jay/hawaii-su.../english2.html

For those not familiar with whitewater, the area where the waterfall hits the pool below it is very retentive. The water all around it is being sucked down into the center and recirculated below. That's why you'll see the guy's boat sit there in the whitewater and not flow downstream like you'd expect. That's also why you'll see the guy disappear for LONG periods of time and then reappear suddenly only to be sucked underwater again. Scary stuff, to say the least.
post #18 of 59
Originally Posted by KevinH

... That's also why you'll see the guy disappear for LONG periods of time and then reappear suddenly only to be sucked underwater again. Scary stuff, to say the least.

I know this will sound strange given what I just wrote about all the skiing fatalities I've known, but whitewater scares me infinitely more than snow. Rivers are just so powerful that if you make a mistake you might just be screwed.

I'll take skiing over serious-water kayaking any day.

post #19 of 59
I've never lost someone I know to snow.

One article I ran across mentioned that skiing has a higher INJURY rate, but kayaking has a higer FATALITY rate.

I'll take getting hurt over getting dead anytime.
post #20 of 59
Thread Starter 
Whitewater scares me too. The forces of moving water are greater than any force I've ever encountered and I've never paddled anything hard, deep, or fast.

Fortunately, whitewater scares most of the people I've paddled with and certainly scares my instructor. Everyone I've been around has a firm "safety first" approach that makes me comfortable.

I was first introduced to the dangers of whitewater kayaking when I showed up for roll practice at a lake. A LAKE, mind you. I brought a pair of neoprene booties to wear but forgot to put them on and approached my boat wearing a pair of Teva sandles. My instructor told me to change into my booties and I did so but asked why I couldn't wear Tevas. He explained that a big, loose shoe could get hung up inside the boat, preventing an exit. You could end up upside down, and stuck in your boat. Your choice is to either roll up (very hard for a beginner) or drown. This is in 3' of water in a lake.

OK, so the next day we went down our first river. A small Class II with low water levels.

On one rapid, I messed up a stroke and ended up sideways. The boat got pinned between two rocks, one on the bow and one on the stern, in 6" of water. Yes, six inches of water. I could NOT get the boat out. Fortunately, I remember that I should lean DOWNSTREAM to present the boat's bottom to the current and didn't flip. But what would have happened in three feet of fast moving, turbulent water. Would one wrong lean result in a pinned entrapment?

I think the scariest thing about whitewater is the limited time for a rescue. A skiing injury, even in the BC, may give rescuers a few minutes or hours before it becomes fatal. Even an avalanche victim can have SOME time; especially if traveling with folks using the proper equipment with the proper training.

Whitewater fatalities happen in seconds. A paddler could be dead before any rescuer even knows something's wrong.

Geesh...now I'm creeping myself out.
post #21 of 59
I had never been rafting before until a few weeks ago.

We did 2 runs at the top of the Penobscot in Maine called the Seboomic Ledges and did class 3 drops in inflatable kayaks. I only wiped out once on those but there were plenty of eddies to swim to.

The second day we went right into a class 5 rapid in the first 2 minutes on a large raft.

It was fun but it is pretty easy to get messed up in white water.

Our guide was awesome and we all trusted him. He was a skier out in Montana in the winter and a river manager for a rafting company in Maine in the summer.

He had us surf some pretty big rapids and we almost flipped the boat in there a few times. Once you get stuck in a surf like that kayaker, you are not getting out until it lets you out.

It was fun but I feel much safer skiing.
post #22 of 59
Most of the ski fatalities in our neck of the woods are a result of backcountry avalanches and do not occur in the patrolled area of the resorts. It's usually a mixed bag of boarders, x-country, and ski mountaineers that get caught, although every now and then you get an atypical case like the woman who was mauled by a cougar a couple of years ago while skiing alone.

On average I think we would have at one or two fatalities a year at one of the 10 resorts within the area covered by our local media (Fernie to Marmot NS and Nakiska to Kicking Horse EW). Most of the on-resort fatalities share the following characteristics: speed, inexperience, obstruction (tree or tower), and no helmet.

How does this compare with other sports? I would guess we average at least one or two people a year who drown on the Bow River (not whitewater by any stretch of the imagination) when they disregard the warning signs and get carried over the weir. There are usually multiple fatalaties each summer on some of our tourist mountains (Rundle, Tunnel, and Cascade) that are close to Banff and have inviting trails that will take the unwary into danger very quickly. Just last week we had a young woman wander over a cliff at Johnston's Canyon after a late night party.

Comparing the relative numbers of resort skiers/boarders, versus backcountry skiers, whitewater enthusiasts, climbers, etc., I would say that the risks are fairly minimal for most of us. The scariest activity I see on the gondola ride up to Sunshine is the people climbing the icefall on the south face of Mt. Bourgeau.
post #23 of 59
I have lost 1 friend to Avalanche & had two life threatening ( as deemed by ER docs) injuries
post #24 of 59
Don't know anyone personally but we have had quite a few deaths in NZ this season.

3 Aussies were killed when their SUV failed to take a hairpin bend while overtaking going downhill, it left the road and tumbled 250m down the mountain.

A Japanese schoolgirl died of head injuries falling head first into a snow bank. She was wearing a helmet.

And another Aussie tourist died heliskiing when a snow bridge over a crevasse gave way. Mountain rescue teams deemed the conditions too unstable to even attempt a rescue.

No locals yet though.
post #25 of 59
Not an aquaintance -- but a girl died at local area trying to jump off lift at a low point and her helmet strap got hung up.
post #26 of 59
In 27 years of skiing and 22 years of teaching, I have never known anyone who has died. I did, however, have a ski school director (and PSIA-E examiner) come about as close as you can, without actually dying. He was doing the Jimmie Heuga race, lost a ski in the soft, spring corn snow, and went off the trail, snapping his tib/fib on a 4x4 fence post, which spun him enough that he missed a large rock with his head (no helmet), but did slam his back onto a large oak tree and break all 8 ribs and clavicle on one side of his body. He spent a couple of weeks in intensive care, and a couple of months in the hospital, and never really skied again (tried some free heeling).

I have had one near-death experience of my own. While taking a day off from teaching, when I was living in Summit Co, CO, me and my roommates took a day trip to Steamboat because we got 3' of fresh overnight. While making the traverse over to an area called "The Chute" above a cliff line, I was looking at the terrain below (to my left) on an 8" wide traverse line to scope out a line, when an unseen rock on my right (uphill) pushed me over the cliff I was traversing across the top of. I fell about 20', head first, with vertical brown rock beside me the whole way down. The only thought in my head was that I was about to die, and I wanted it to be quick and painless, so I was hoping I would just hit hard and not feel anything. I blacked out just before impact. As it turns out, I landed on a perfect slope, with about 5' of soft, fresh snow. When I opened my eyes and checked all my parts, I realized I wasn't dead, because I was upside down in a whole lot of snow. When I got myself upright, I could see that I slid about 10' after I hit. I didn't feel any pain at all from the fall, but about a day later, while playing b-ball in the local gym, I realized I had tweaked my shoulder pretty good. That's something you don't let happen twice.
post #27 of 59
I did know someone who died from his skiing injuries. He badly damaged the lower extremities and they thought amputating his legs might save him. The injuries were too much for his body to cope with and his systems effectively shut down.

It happened in bounds while he was skiing with his family on Spring Break. He was a very strong and skilled skier. It still haunts all of us who knew him and his family.

BTW... I'm also an avid scuba diver and sailor. Both sports with their own sets of hazards. It all depends in how you execute things sometimes as to how dangerous something really is. I also busted a leg once (first day of season, 2:00 pm) on intermediate in bounds terrain and was out for the season. The moral I guess... you just never know.
post #28 of 59
Don Jugle, a high ranking USSA alpine official was killed when he skied into a lift tower. Ironically, his son Jay, a US Ski Team member, was killed just prior.

RIP my friends.
post #29 of 59
Inbounds, as others have said, is pretty darn safe. I've never known anyone who has died inbounds. Friends and relatives with injuries inbounds? Oh yes. I do have friends who knew people who died inbounds. (And Summit County is the deadliest inbounds county anywhere (13 on mountain deaths last season IIRC)). If you do a lot of backcountry (at least in Colorado) and hang out with that crowd (small (relatively speaking) and tightknit (also relatively speaking)), you will have many many friends who know people who have died skiing. I knew someone who died in the BC. Other sports: SCUBA is very safe relative to other sports. If you do stupid things diving, it can be very dangerous.

What an odd topic...
post #30 of 59
Last year, during the first week Loveland was open, a group of us rode up chair one and watched a guy collapse after getting off the lift. He did this in front of several patrollers. They started CPR right away and called for a chopper to get the guy to an ER. He didn't make it. It was a hell of a way to start the season.

It made me realize I need to keep running or biking in the summer to get ready for ski season.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: General Skiing Discussion
EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › On the Snow (Skiing Forums) › General Skiing Discussion › Informal poll on life-threatening skiing hazards