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Ski instruction and Liability?

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 
There have been many references in this forum to risk management and liability related to instructors manipulating their student's equipment and the inherent liability exposure it presents.

My question is: Where is the line? and is there a line? or is it one big grey area that has just been avoided?

Can an instructor suggest the student ski with his/her boots unbuckled? All of them? just one or two? If asked to change the buckle tension to a very loose setting, does that constitute "unbuckled"? Should the student fall and be injured while skiing with their buckles set at a tension other than what they themselves originally set them at, at the instructor's request, is the instructor then liable for their safety while skiing at that particular buckle tension?

As an instructor any actions you take or do not take that are deemed negligent ("grossly" negligent in fact) could get you named in an injury law suit. I believe in most states? you must be proved to be "grossly" negligent not just negligent. What that means specifically I do not know? My point though is....where is the line? what can you direct your students to do or not do and be risk free from a liability/negligence claim? Are certified intructors more or less likely to be held liable for their perceived knowledge and expertise on the subject?

Some instructors say they are not permitted to place shims under bindings yet can put trail maps inside boots. How is this different under the liability microscope?

I believe one of the reasons instructors have a phobia about placing shims under a binding is that the binding manufacturers have policies for the shops to protect them from costs assocciated with defending a claim in court called "binding indemnification" which after a binding technician becomes "certified " by the manufacturer they are indemnified under the manufacturer's policy and therefore the shop would not have to bear the cost of representation in a law suit. The binding interface topic has been more at the forefront because of the manufacturers' certification process and involvement with the interface between boots and bindings. But....How is this different than putting a footbed in a boot or a heel lift in a boot? If an injury occurs and the client decides the modifications made to their boots was the fault of their injury, what does it matter whether the binding released properly or not?

When an accident occurs on the hill and patrol fills out an accident report it is stated whether the ski bindings released or not and whether it was the toe or heel as well as the visual indicator setting on the binding. Should that setting be other than what they left the shop on, the shop is cleared. Should the binding be set at what it left the shop on and set correctly by the guidelines set forth by D.I.N. and A.S.T.M., then the ski and binding system is tested to check to see if it releases within the torque specifications set forth on the adjustment chart to determine if the binding malfunctioned. The fact is that even then there is not proof that the binding did not function properly when tested by the ski shop!

Where is the line?
post #2 of 54
As someone who was injured in ski class this year, this is a touchy subject. After the incident, I received PM telling me that is was my instructor's fault.

This is nothing short of ridiculous!!

When, as students, are we going to start taking responsibility for ourselves? If something feels really unsafe our body will give us feedback to that affect. If we choose to ignore it, like I did, it's our own damn fault, and we should not turn our own stupidity into grounds for a lawsuit! :

Instructors often find themselves in a tenuous situation. They want to provide a safe experience, but at the same time, they are sometimes pressured by their students to make their class more challenging.

Last season, we had a semi regular student in our class whose perceptions of her ability level were totally warped. Either on the lift, or at the end of the lesson, she would often whine that the class was not challenging enough. While I was able to convince her of the instructors value, looking back, that was my biggest mistake. On the day in question, our instructor had clearly asked, "what do you want to do for your last run?'" When someone said a bump run, he clearly said, "any one person has the power to veto this!"

Having already skied a few black diamond mogul runs that day, I wanted to be the one to veto. However, I did not feel like listening to another whining session from " Miss I ski to good for this class."

As it turns out, she did not want to ski another bump run either, but was afraid to speak up. Instead, she stood paralyzed like a deer in headlights. Since I was tired, I used really bad form to avoid hitting her. Even as I started to slide down the mountain, "Miss advanced skier" chose to just stand there.

So who's at fault here? My instructor? Give me a freakin' break!:
post #3 of 54
Okay, why did you delete this? Now my reply makes no sense!
post #4 of 54
Thread Starter 
I am sorry guys, I wanted to edit it and some how posted twice. when I went to delete it there is not option for deleting so I wrote delete? How can you delete a post? The other post is the edited version that I wanted posted.

sorry but thanks for your responses!

love ya
post #5 of 54

Where to begin. At our school we are told not to touch a binding under any circumstancesand certain exercises such as skiing with unbuckled boots are not allowed. Even in a staff clinic we have to give the indivduals the option of not doing something like that if they don't feel comfortable about it. Any kind of a shim to play with alignment is out. Removing or adding heel lifts in a boot is OK. Trail maps to tip a foot lateraly inside the boot would be questionable but has never came up and as you have pointed out canting inside the boot and canting the boot itself by planing the sole or shimming under the binding are two different things.

Some of us get around this by telling the student just what alignment and canting are and explaining how some people use shims and/or layers of duct tape to experiment with their alignment and I do know where they can borrow some shims (in my pocket) or find some duct tape (wrapped around my poles) if they want to experiment and put the shims on the binding or tip the boot using duct tape.

As to loosening a boot buckle I will tell them how the tightness of the buckle can affect their skiing and show them how relatively loose my buckles are and leave it up to them if they want to try a looser setting.

We're also supposed to choose terrain so that there is a bail-out option if a student is uncomfortable with the slope we are taking them to ski.

post #6 of 54

If your instructor has to bestow veto powers to the student, the question should not have been asked in the first place. The instructor should always be aware of the condition of the students -- that's a rule. There should be no question of this. Safety comes before anything. Given little miss "this is not hard enough", the instructor ought to have known that there would be no veto -- the question was empty. If anything the effect would be to coax the class into doing the run.

The timing of the run is also real issue. The last run of the lesson should be used to cool down, and reflect on your success. It is supposed to be about fun and acheivement -- which is also why a "veto question" is so inappropriate. If someone did veto the choice, would they or anyone else really have fun on that last run?

You were placed in a no-win situation. Unfortunately, losing had serious consequences.

Was it your fault? No. You would not have gone if you felt it was not safe. But you may not be the best judge of your own condition or what could happen in the group. The instructor MUST assure your safety. Asking you for a veto is plain wrong.
post #7 of 54
Thread Starter 
ydnar, so your resort allows you to make fore/aft changes to your clients but prohibits lateral plane adjustments? Hmmmm? Is one more dangerous or risky than the other? Or is it O.K. to make internal boot adjustments but not external adjustments?

I will bet if you pushed your risk management on the issues of what you specifically could and could not do, there would be a memo distributed that prohibited any kind of alteration to client's equipment whatsoever? It seems that instead of studying the issue and the possible benefits, risk management takes the easy route and simply says no. It's easy, takes little effort on their part and, "CThereA".
post #8 of 54
Plaintiffs' attorneys are not interested in filing actions against individual ski instructors. They are looking for ways to delve into the deep pockets of the owner/operator resort. The resort is going to error on the side of caution when determining what kind of equipment adjustment is acceptable for instructors.
Consider a resort with 700+ instructors. It is much easier for the resort to state: No binding adjustments are to be done by instructors. Therefore, when some student sues the resorts, the resort representative can get on the witness stand and say: We do not allow any binding adjustments to be done by our instructors as oposed to: We allow A, B and C but not D, E and F. It makes sense from the resorts viewpoint. It also avoids the issue of whether the equipment was defective from the beginning. With all of the rental shops, borrowed equipment etc., allowing instructors to mess with equipment opens up a whole area of liability for the resort.
post #9 of 54
Thread Starter 

good point! So do you believe the reason that instructors can get away with stuffing knapkins or trail maps in boots now is because it has not been brought to the attention of the risk management department? or has there been a precident set for this to be permitted?

The resorts have to protect their deep pockets as much as possible so how do they justify building huge man-made obstacles like half pipes, jumps, SOLID STEEL rails???? Isn't that just asking for liability? I remember not too many years ago resorts marking off or mowing down anything that looked like a jump. What changed?? We know it's all about lift ticket sales but how did the resorts circumvent the liability issues? Are we in an environment where if you think the answer maight be NO, don't ask?

Does anybody have statistics on how many law suits for instructor related incidents have been filed in the last say, ten years? Is there any kind of breakdown on what suits were filed against?

Where is the line? Skiing is a dangerous sport. Should we not ski? Riding a chairlift has inherent risks, should we not ride chairs? Trees are hazardous to our health....should resorts cut them all down? How many skiers and snowboarders have been injured in the parks and man made terrain features since it all began? How many sued the resorts? What was the resort's defense? I am sincerely interested.
post #10 of 54
Bud: I am not justifying what the resorts do. I am simply stating what they do.
In Colorado, the legislature has taken care of much liability problems away from ski resorts by enacting laws that limit the liability of the ski areas. The ski industry lobby and the money that ski tourists bring to the state encourage the legislature to enact protections for the ski areas.

Ski areas think they have to have half-pipes, rails etc. to attract the business.
There are significant protections in place for the ski areas with respect to liability for the use of those attractions by customers. However, there are not as many legal protections for human negligence that involves ski instructors, lift operators etc.

I agree. Skiing is dangerous. Many things can happen. The resorts try to mimimize their risk factors by limiting certain behaviors by their employees.
post #11 of 54
Thread Starter 
I agree with lisamarie! Americans need to ultimately take responsibility for their own judgement! We all get hurt but why must people look to blame somebody? Should an instructor tell you to ski something you are not comfortable with you do have the right of refusal!

Big E, it was nobody's fault!!!! it was an accident! should the instructor be responsible for analyzing each student's mental and physical state before each run?.... come on. Now if a lift tower fell on lisamarie's head and killed her or for that matter broke a nail, she should sue.
post #12 of 54
With all due respect, an instructor gets paid to keep their students safe at all times during the lesson while challenging them appropriately. That responsibility includes making appropriate judgment calls taking into account their students' motivations and physical abilities, along with students' tendencies to overassess and overextend themselves. Instructors are paid to be risk managers, although this term as such doesn't get used much in the business.
The best instructors are adept at reading social and emotional dynamics in a class, particularly dysfunctional ones. They will at all times attempt to balance risk and challenge with safety, paying particular attention to students' energy levels and body language. They don't yield to pressure from overeager students but gracefully and cleverly rechannel it. They don't make inappropriate requests particularly at the end of the day.
I'm sorry you were hurt Lisamarie. I'd have to concur with the ski area that the responsibility was a shared one.
post #13 of 54
I don't blame you for being confused about ski areas that practice conservative risk management on the instructional side while installing hazards on the slopes for skiers to fling themselves from. Perhaps it does make sense, if we consider the element of "free will." A skier in a lesson is presumed to hand over the decision-making to his/her instructor whereas partaking of a hazard or feature (man-made or natural) is presumably a matter of individual choice. By disallowing instructors to make certain decisions for their clients, ski areas manage that area of risk.

An instructor who makes poor decisions on behalf of his/her client should own the consequences, but that seldom happens--most people who are injured in these situations don't sue, they just don't ski again.
post #14 of 54
Thread Starter 
Good points Vera and nolo! An instructor who demonstrates good judgment should never have a problem with being sued.

I wonder if it may ever be possible to integrate a specific training and certification program for instructors that would certify them in the art of boot alignment assessment and analysis? This may be a way to mitigate the liability factors and appease the risk managers? A "certified alignment specialist" (CAS certified) would be indemnified by boot and binding manufacturers to assess and make temporary adjustments to equipment using certified "safe" materials within thickness guidelines determined by manufacturers. The certification would include PSIA accepted methodology guidlines for evaluating stances using exercises and drills to elicit deficiencies.

When a customer signed up for a CAS evaluation they would be releasing any liability related to an injury during the assessment period. I would think it would be easy to get support from the orthopedic community for the benefits and safety of good alignment. Once endorsed by PSIA, the manufacturers, and the medical field, I would think that appeasing risk management would be easier!

piece a cake?....
post #15 of 54
A few thoughts:

- Rather than get wound up about suits against instructors, in the abstract, it might make sense first to try to gauge just how many such suits there have been. I don't know, myself. I think there's a good possibility the answer is: "Not many."

- The ski school should have liability insurance. There are situations in which the insurance won't cover you. I suspect one would be if the ski school explicitly tells the instructors not to adjust bindings, and you adjust bindings.

- The standard for liability would, I think, be negligence. The initial post says that it's gross negligence, and simple negligence doesn't give rise to liability. I'm not sure where that comes from, so it may be right for all I know. You have to be pretty bad to be grossly negligent. Other posts above seem to written under the opposite impression that instructors are strictly liable in some circumstances, which is not the case.

- The difference between putting shims under bindings and putting shims inside of boots is, I think, that the former might make the binding malfunction, while the worst the latter does is make the student's leg feel funny.
post #16 of 54
More thoughts on some specifics:

- This should be obvious, but maybe not: there's no liability if nobody is hurt. Okay, I suppose someone might try to claim for some "California tort" like infliction of emotional harm because they were scared. But that sort of claim starts to get into the laughable area.

- In actual experience, what happens to people who try to get down a run that's too hard for them is that they have a really un-fun time struggling down. They generally don't get hurt.

- It seem like most of the places where you'd be exposed to real danger of liability are pretty obvious, and I hope some combination of common sense and decent training would steer you clear of them: adjusting bindings, telling kids to do dangerous stuff like blind jumps, being careless with small kids in loading and unloading chairs, taking students into closed areas, etc.
post #17 of 54
Some random thoughts:

At ESA, whoever was uncomfortable with the duct tape that Bud put on their skis, simply took it off. DUH!

If an instructor told me to ski with my boots unbuckled, I would not do it. Plain and simple. There was a time I would not ski without poles, because the fear it caused would create more tension than any learning the instructor was trying to elicit. That's not the case now, but in the past, all I had to do was say "no."

The only incident that made me seriously consider not skiing happened when I was a relatively new skier. Many people know this story, so I'll be brief. First, the instructor switched my boot from walk to ski. Don't know why. The fact that he did this without explanation is a sign of bad teaching.

To teach me to edge, he lay down in the snow, pulled on my ankles and pulled me down on top of him. Although I am usually open to physicality from instructors, I strongly disliked this particular one. If he had any teaching skills whatsoever, he would have read this in my body language and not used a physical approach.

Bud mentioned the ski patrollers reporting if the bindings released. When I got hurt, I was using skis whose bindings had not been adjusted for a few years. If I'm such a bimbo that I don't even get my bindings checked, it's not my instructor's responsibility.
post #18 of 54
Thread Starter 
Just to be clear: I am not advocating instructors doing "binding adjustments"

The fact is that most, and I say most to cover my butt, bindings will still release within the specified torque ranges with shims between the boot and binding interface. I REPEAT...SEE ABOVE.

There seems to be a perception that anything placed between the binding and boot will inhibit proper release and this is simply not true. I have personally put as many as eight layers of duct tape on toe pieces and done release tests with passing results. Thanks to a new method I learned from Arcmeister, I now use pieces of actual cant strips under the heel piece and this eliminate any issues with the toe. The heel pieces only have to release vertically and the cant strips do not inhibit this release at all!! BRAVO.

I have also found that placing as much as 3mm shims under toes (bontex shims made of press cardboard) does not hinder proper release.

Unfortunately, this is not widely known or accepted by resort risk managements and therefore creates the problem.
post #19 of 54
Isn't alignment part of the PMTS certification?

I'd love to see Bud's certification idea part of PSIA. Bud - the place to start is to put together a proposal for documenting the objectives, the benefits and how it would work. The Master Teacher certification in the East might be a program that you could model. Now if only the boot manufacturers had enough liability costs to make an indemnification program pay for itself, this would be a slam dunk. It might be a good enough idea for them to sponsor something on a trial basis.
post #20 of 54

Some accidents can be avoided. Especially the last run of a session, where fatigue can be a factor. I'd suspect the instructor's question to the class went something like:

"OK, you've all got veto power. If you don't want to do this bump run for any reason, we won't. Who wants to veto?"

If that's the case, it should not have even been suggested because the instructor already thought there may be a problem. IMO, if you are hesitant, don't it, and don't leave it up to the class.

If you are compelled to ask the question the veto is the wrong way. The instructor can make it much easier than exercising veto powers to avoid doing a run:

"Is anyone a bit tired? I know I am... Who wants to take it easy on the way down?" I suspect that if the question was framed that way, the run would have been avoided.

From the CSIA Skiing and teaching methods manual:

"Are your students tired?
Good teachers are constantly alert to signs of fatigue in the class. Fatigue is a major cause of accidents and injury in skiing."

It was an accident. But I think it could have been avoided.

That's my 2 cents
post #21 of 54


In the southeast feeders we see few students who return for lessons with a single instructor. Perhaps up in VT where the money flows easier and you have a repeat clientel it's different.

If I had worked with a small group or an individual over time, even during a single week, I would have a grasp on their individual "performance envelope" and tolerance level and perhaps make some adjustments like heel lifts (our hill sold them in the shop for $3), or drills with the boots unbuckled.

Working with an individual in a one hour private for the first time, I'd be very reluctant ..... actually wouldn't do it unless that individual had some very strong skills and was way on top of the game.

Part of the problem is that many of us are "green" as instructors and I personally don't have that ability to read the individual that well and, there are only a handfull of full timers who I think could pull it off. I've been on a few of those "crash and burn" episodes ..... saw it coming and tagged along to pick up the pieces all the while wondering if MY liability was going to be compromised by proximity?

Conversely, I was the reciepient of a great lesson at Pico that wouldn't have happened by today's standards. The instructor followed for the first third down, bolted by and told me to follow then dropped back at speed and watched again. His lesson was ... "you ski fine, now lets go have fun" ... off through the woods to some "chutes". I was a bit frightened but it got me over a step in that never ending plateau of skiing. His confidence in me was a big part of that.
post #22 of 54
Originally Posted by ydnar
Trail maps to tip a foot lateraly inside the boot would be questionable
post #23 of 54
Thread Starter 
Yuki, good point.

This concept would certainly be something an instructor would explore more around the Level III certification level. But then it is never too early to open our eyes to important concepts and soak up what we can!
post #24 of 54
I'm confused.

There are two story lines here.

1) instructors "telling students" how to ski.

2) instructors making mechanical adjustments to students' equipment.

NOBODY should be saddling the instructor with all the blame in either case.

In the case of (1) the student merely can nod the head, say "okay," and then just do whatever the fork he or she wants. the instructor is not God, though some may believe themselves to inhabit that character for the purpose of playing on snow.

In the case of (2) I would imagine a ski area would turn its back on any instructor who did such adjusting ...IF... the student was a FNG and didn't know anything about equipment. this is a sliding scale issue, the more equipment-literate the student, the less likely the instructor should have responsibility.

Are all skiers to assume that instructors and coaches know the mechanics of ski equipment as well as a Mfr's factory race tech does?
post #25 of 54
I've done loose boot exercises with a few folks that I know pretty well and know that they won't go into panic mode.

I may have a person put a trail map inside a buckled boot to get them forward/centered. Never done it, but that's not too radical.

I would not put a wad of duct tape on a binding ... period! Green Mt. Orthodocs has done it for my son and self but that's what they are in business for.

A big question is our "employment" terms. We are often hired as "private contractors", not direct employees of the hill or the school. As private contractors ..... read your employment agreement .... does that give us increased personal liability since I'm not "Yuki, Inc." or "Yuki, L.L.C."?

Essentially they do this to eacape minimum wage and hour laws.
post #26 of 54
We are forbidden to touch bindings other than that there are no hard and fast rules.

I diagonse a lot of boot alignment issues and then I send the person to a professional I trust, end of story. I would be uncomfortable with most instructors I work with doing anything beyond that.

If you are going to play with unbuckling boots, make sure your student knows why you are doing it and that it is not meant to be permanent. I had a student who skied with her boots unbuckled all the time because an instructor told her to and she had rear-entry boots. (true story)
post #27 of 54
Thread Starter 
What if binding manufacturers would indemnify instructors who were certified by them through PSIA to perform on hill alignment assessments? "Certified Alignment Specialist" or CAS for short, could be another stamp on your business card and resume! The program would include a basic understanding of alignment issues, how to identify them and make appropriate on hill temporary adjustment to create a balanced stance. Then the client would be guided to an affiliated alignment expert shop to have permanent modification made to equipment and returned to DIN Specifications??...
post #28 of 54
an excellent idea, Bud, and one that shouldn't be too hard to implement PROVIDED the binding mfrs are willing to certify you coaches and instructors and you can get some sort of identifying item (card, patch for jacket, whatever) that can distinguish you.

the bigger hurdle is skier31's observations on how business is run at ski areas... will the fear of defending lawsuits cause a ski area to refuse to recognize the idea Bud just proposed?
post #29 of 54
Interesting topic. I'll limit my comments to my personal experiences and the guidance we as instructors get from the resort at which I work.

First off, we ALWAYS before EVERY lesson give "the spiel". "At anytime today you feel uncomfortable with any place I ask you to go or with anything I ask you to do, it's your responsibility to let me know and I will do my best to make the appropriate adjustment." or something to that effect. Now with that being said, it's very seldom that I get folks that say, "I don't want to do this", or "I don't want to ski this". Part of this comes from know when to push and when not to push, and having skied with folks enough to know the appropriate terrain and "drills" to accomplish what we as a class are trying to. second, I never take folks somewhere where I do not think they will be successful (Well, the "yellow bear trail" with kids might be an exception.... )BUT, there ARE times when folks don't have to say anything. Body language says it all. I've have learned (the hard way), always try to have a bail out route. I also always try to let folks know what they are in for in new terrain, "Trail "B" is a bit harder than trail "A". It's steeper, a little narrower and might have some widely spaced moguls. Are you OK with that?" If you are going past your bail out point, ALWAYS stop and let folks know, "This is the point of no return, this is your last chance to go another way. Is everyone OK with what we are about to do?" This puts the "liability" squarely on their shoulders.

Now there is also the issue of touching or adjusting equipment. I will NEVER adjust another skiers bindings. EVER. However, given the poor pay of the ski industry, there are folks on our staff who have second jobs and are certified binding techs. I have seen them adjust bindings. Mostly with kids that come with ill fitting or misadjusted (due to mom/dad) bindings. This is VERY infrequent and doesn't really happen anymore (due to changes in the layout of our shops/rental areas(skis are now rented out of the children learning center and they have techs there.)) Now, what about boots. That's a different ball game. I buckle boots for my beginners all the time. Frankly, it's easier for me to do it (they have a hard time bending over and getting enough torque on the buckles). This type of action is a partnership, "is that tight enough or too tight?" I also help students remove the snow from the bottom of their boots. This could be done with my pole, a ski or a scraper. I explain that the soles must be "totally clean" for the bindings to operate properly. That's another good one to "check for understanding" with.

Finally, I try to constantly reenforce during my lessons when we are skiing "outside the realm of 'Normal'". When we are doing a drill that works on edges, I try to explain WHY we are doing this and HOW it incorporates into "normal" skiing. I do this because I've had to many people when asked why they make a particular movement (which was clearly a drill in a previous lesson) tell me "My other instructor told me to ski like that." Included with this spill is any possible hazards that might be associated with skiing beyond the realm. Almost every lesson I use the phrase "...If you feel like you are losing your balance and are going to fall, quit doing the drill and ski normally until you recover. It's more important that we stay upright than do the drill..."

These are just a few thing that I do, to keep my student and myself safe.

post #30 of 54
Thread Starter 
As a past Salomon rep, I certified thousands of binding techs and I can tell you that if a person has a pulse they can pass it. In fact the test is an open book test and the testing criteria is very easy. So......How much different or stretch would it be to certify instructors/coaches to assess alignments? Again we would have to set the criteria but as far as manufacturers are concerned I would think that the primary concern would be to specify and test the materials being placed between boots and bindings and insure that the binding function while using these materials is not compromised and functions as intended. Beyond that specific criteria I don't forsee any issues. Now will they offer indemnification to instructors and coaches? Dunno? They would have to see a benefit to them I would imagine and is there? Maybe they would see an increase in shims they offer to change stand heights? there really isn't much in it for them.


Just a note of caution for your moonlighting instructors....the binding certification they received is only valid for making adjustments within the shop they were certified for. Making adjustments on the hill is not covered and the neccessary paper work needs to be filled in and signed. So what they are doing on hill is not indemnified currently.
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