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The Winter of Our Discontent

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
On Washington's Birthday my 6 year old son was enjoying a lesson skiing ten yards behind his instructor when he was plowed into from above by a straight lining reckless skier. The accident occured at Snowmass Co in the family fun area (a designated slow children zone) it was witnessed by three other ski intructors who also had their groups in the area and were powerless to prevent it.

The ski school was able to reach me by cell phone, and I was able to meet the sled on the hill. Despite years of trauma experience nothing could prepare me for the sight of my son with a cervical collar writhing in agony. The MD part of me processed the ski patrol information quickly 1)femur fracture, (believe it or not the least of my concerns) 2)neurologic status was uncertain but hopefully fine due to his helmet. 3 hours later and emergency surgery at Aspen Valley Hospital (great hospital, nurses, and MDs) and my son's left leg was reset with the aid of two titanium rods. Aspen Ski Co was very supportive in the aftermath, and his instructor was nearly in tears at his bedside.

Now two months later my son will likely make a full recovery. He still asks to see the video of him skiing the day prior to the accident. Interestingly because he was hit, he really does'nt see the accident as the result of skiing.

As a father, there is a feeling of gnawing guilt that simply will not go away. One friend's flipant comment made me pause. "I guess that is the end of your family ski vacations." Exactly the message I do not want to send to my children, if things get hard run away.

You try to do everything right. Good instruction, wear your helmet, and ski in control. I keep searching for an answer and a way to do better next season. Certainly the mountain and Ski School are blameless. Although close calls and collisions have become the rule at Snowmass during vacation weeks. Most of my anger is directed at the parents of the twelve year old that hit my son. They sent a child who barely knew how to ski out with his 16 year old cousin as his intructor. I feel this is the moral equivalent of handing a 14 year old the keys to the family car. Next time it might be a tree, not my son, that cushions his fall.

Intellectually, I know there are no answers. Injuries are a part of skiing and a risk we all accept. It just gets harder when you accept those same risks for your children.
post #2 of 11
I hope your son's recovery is complete and you resume your family ski vacations.

Unfortunately, the problems you describe are not unique to Snowmass. Inevitably, at any area, you will see beginners and less skilled skiers on terrain totally unsuitable for their ability, where they become a menace to themselves and the general skiing population. Far too often they have been led on by their by "friends" who have no concept of teaching or have forgotten the struggles of their own early days.

I'm not sure what the answer is to this problem. Most areas offer reasonably priced beginners lessons. Plus the areas can't station "slope ability" police on every trail.

Again, I hope your son's recovery is swift and complete.
post #3 of 11
That's a real bummer. Sounds like your son will weather it ok but still a scary incident.

My prayers and wishes for a speedy recovery..

As an instructor, I feel for the instructors too. We watch as close calls and near misses happen all the time. Helpless to do anything but yell at the offending person.

Very seldom does the Patrol actually catch and stop some of these reckless people. :
post #4 of 11
Most skiers will understand a good part of this. Only a parent can understand all of it. Thanks for the report. I'm delighted that your son wanted to see that video. More ski vacations for you and yours! And no, the resort can't police everthing, but I still think frequently they could do better. I was hit twice this year - once by a skier and once by a snowboarder. Neither were kids. Speeding when not in complete control is just plain wrong. Thanks that your son is ok. Considering all, you have been very temperate. Good on ya.
post #5 of 11
By the way, I don't remember if I extended a welcome to you RetinaDoc so welcome to epicski.

I'm guessing by your handle you are an Optho ?

The incident in this thread on safety happened while I was skiing with a buddy and his 2 kids. The youngest kept telling us he was almost hit by the same guy and actually yelled at him one time by himself. (5 year old) and the son of a Opto. Kind of a ironic coincidence.

[ April 21, 2002, 07:44 PM: Message edited by: dchan ]
post #6 of 11
retinadoc - You have my total sympathy, and I wish your boy a complete and swift recovery.

Unfortunately, I see and hear of more and more cases like this, especially at smaller non-destination resorts.

In my own case, a couple of years ago, a teenaged male boarder plowed into my (then) 8 y.o. daughter from behind. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, but it caused her to become much more timid than she had ever previously been.

A few weeks later in that season, on a totally deserted trail, she implored me to ski directly behind her for protecton. I thought it was totally unnecessary, but understandable, so I did it. This was very fortunate because a moment later, three kids (high teens / early 20's) intentionally cut close to us, with the last one giving me a good shove as he went by. He obviously assumed that since I was in a snowplow on a beginner's trail, I was a poor skier and would fall. Well, I didn't go down, and after checking that my daughter was ok, followed the one who shoved me on a high speed chase all the way to the bottom of the mtn. I cornered him, and after scaring the daylights out of him, let him go.

In retrospect, for the benefit of parents and other users of the mountain, I realized that what I should have done was spend the time and press the issue: ie, have the patrol call the local cops, and at the very minimum, had his parents have to come down to the police station to pick him up.

I find behavior such as we both experienced repugnant whether its unintentional (but completely avoidable with appropriate parential guidance / control), or intentional (as it was in my case).

In any case, I strongly suggest that ski area management stop hamstringing the patrol and let them be much more agressive in their identification and control of reckless skiers, because if they don't, they are sure to be defending themselves more frequently in the coming years against charges of negligence due to cases like this.

Again, retinaDoc, good luck to you and your family in the aftermath of this terrible incident.


Tom / PM

PS - By any chance, do you happen to know an acquaintence of mine, Dr. Robert F. Stephens, another vitreous and retina doc from the DC area? We've had a couple of discussions in an area of mutual interest (semiconductor based retinal prostheses).

[ April 21, 2002, 07:51 PM: Message edited by: PhysicsMan ]
post #7 of 11
Retinadoc, it seems you have one tough kid, if he has not lost his spirit.
Nonetheless, your story points out an issue that has been discussed at length on this forum. Who's ultimately at fault? I don't know.

But I think that the ski industry trying to promote the image that "skiing is easy" does not help the problem. They also need to get much more assertive about tracking down "perpetrators". My husband was hit at Killington a few years ago. An instructor, a ski patroller, and a mountain ambassador all witnessed the incident, and did nothing!

Since then, I refuse to return to Killington. But I'm sure the out of control boarder has no reason to boycott Killington. Being greedy about not going after "offenders" for fear of losing customers, is penny wise and pound foolish.

I wish your son a speedy recovery!
post #8 of 11
Wow retinadoc, your experience is one I never want to go through and I am feeling most fortunate after have introduced my 7 and 12 year old to skiing this year. They have been out 3 times each. Twice to Monarch and once to Loveland. Fortunately both places were not very crowded those days. I have been skiing behind them and very aware of what is going on behind me, running "interference" from potential morons. I have witnessed the out of control teenagers and adults straightlining beginner style down the hill and have given my unsolicited advise more than once. Sure, there are warning signs that skiing too fast may result in revocation of a ticket, it actually needs to be enforced more often.

My kids make more turns in a typical run than most adults and ski in control. I won't have it any other way. I agree with PhysicsMan for a more proactive attitude by resort management regarding reckless skiers/boarders.

My best wishes for a complete recovery.
post #9 of 11
Speedy recovery!
post #10 of 11
From another member of the Broken Femur Club, good luck to you and your son. After reading about his injuries, I now feel (almost) lucky.

So what happened to the kid/parents who hit your son? If you are hit by someone at a ski resort, what kind of legal recourse do you have? Does the ski patrol have authority to collar someone and hold him/her legally responsible?
post #11 of 11
retinadoc- very very sorry to hear about your son. he seems amazingly resilient and hopefully all will be ok in the end (no long lasting effects).

i guess i would look for more "out of the way" destinations for your skiing pleasure. i always feel a bit safer when there's a bit more elbow room. also, i think it gives a slightly more genuine ski experience. sure, the grooming might not be as incredible, and the lifts not as fast, but it's about being outside and enjoying the mountains. keep that as your focus.
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