Keystone, CO

Young male skiers more likely to die in on-slope collisions

Sara B. Hansen

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Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Keystone, Colo.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

By Sara B. Hansen / NewsBreak Denver

Skiers and snowboarders killed at mountain resorts in the United States are most likely young men who die after collisions.

According to National Ski Areas Association statistics, 48 skiers or snowboarders died in collisions nationally during the 2020-21 ski season.

That number is higher than the 10-year average of 39 deaths per year.

Of the 48 ski deaths:

  • 93% were men
  • The majority were 21- to 30-years old
  • 79% died due to collisions with objects, most often trees
  • 78% wore helmets (below the national average of 87% ski helmet use)
  • Most died in crashes on intermediate terrain.

Adrienne Saia Isaac, National Ski Areas Association marketing and communications director, says it's hard to determine why so many skiers die after colliding with trees while skiing on intermediate or expert terrain.

She says skiers need to prepare for the unexpected and ski defensively.

"When you find yourself skiing in or near trees, an accident can happen," Isaac says. "You could be walking down the sidewalk and trip. Sometimes you break your fall, sometimes you don't. When you're skiing, sometimes you catch an edge and fly."

Colorado ski deaths

In Colorado, 12 people died on the slopes in 2020-2021.

As of Feb. 17, eight people have died this ski season. The stats so far:

  • Seven men and one woman died.
  • Six died after colliding with trees, one collided with a snowboarder, and one bled to death after falling on a rock.
  • Colorado's ski fatalities typically are older than the national average.

In Colorado's most recent ski death, a Colorado School of Mines senior died on Feb. 9 while skiing at Copper Mountain. David Vasserman, 21, died when he lost control on expert terrain on Bradley's Plunge run in the Copper Bowl Area. The Summit County Coroner's Office said Vasserman died from severe blood loss after falling on a rock and tearing an artery in his leg.

Is afternoon skiing more dangerous?

Anecdotally, most skiers think late afternoon runs are more dangerous. They blame falling temperatures, making the snow more treacherous as skiers and snowboarders become tired while squeezing in a few more runs.

But Isaac of the National Ski Areas Association disagrees and says the statistics for fatal collisions and catastrophic injuries don't support that hypothesis.

"Accidents can happen at any time," she says. "When you're skiing, you always have to be mindful about your own ability level and be aware of the people around you. You need to have a sense of concern about the people near you."

So far this year in Colorado, skiing fatalities occurred between 10:25 a.m. and 3:05 p.m.

Staying safe

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Matthew Rocha, 3, lets his mom adjust his ski helmet on Feb. 22, 2017, at a rental shop at Echo Mountain Resort.Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Helmet use helps protect skiers and snowboarders from skull fractures and severe brain injuries. Although the ski area association expects the percentage of helmet users to flatline, Isaac says it keeps increasing annually.

The association reports 87% of all skiers and snowboarders wore helmets at U.S. ski areas during the 2020-2021 season.

Roughly 100% of children under 9 wear helmets, while about 96% of children under 17 wear helmets. Only 82 percent of adults 25 to 34 wear helmets. In comparison, only 65 percent of motorcycle riders wore helmets in 2020.

"The collective industry efforts to promote helmet use should be applauded," says Kelly Pawlak, National Ski Area Association president.

"At the same time, we stress that skiing and riding safely and responsibly, in addition to wearing a helmet, is the best way to prevent incidents and injuries out on the mountain."

The ski association also encourages all skiers and snowboarders to follow the seven points of the skier's responsibility code to enjoy a safe day on the slopes:

  • Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
  • People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid other skiers and snowboarders.
  • Don't stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above.
  • Yield to others when starting downhill or merging into a trail.
  • Secure skis and poles to prevent runaway equipment.
  • Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
  • Before using any lift, make sure you know how to load, ride and unload safely.

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Sara is the Denver news manager for NewsBreak. She's held editing roles at The Denver Post, The Des Moines Register, and The Fort Collins Coloradoan.

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