“I guess it’s a bad year for me to hit the slopes. Or at least I should start working out first.”
My friend’s 62-year-old father gave a nervous sigh in response to his own comment. Prior to that, he had brought up a recent article that covered how two skiers, 53 and 66, died within days of each other at Keystone Resort, both determined to be the result of a cardiac event. This article was hard for him to shake.
At the time of this late December conversation, these two deaths were number four and five of the 2018-2019 Colorado ski season. Less than a month later, there have already been five more fatalities, bring the running total to ten.
This winter season, the death toll on the Colorado slopes (on-resort and in the backcountry) seems to be much higher than the norm. Let’s take a look at how this season compares to other seasons.
As of January 22, 2019, the ten skier/snowboarder deaths that have occurred in Colorado during the 2018-2019 season include a backcountry touring death in Aspen, a death at Granby during night skiing, the death of a skier on Quandary Peak, the death of a 71-year-old at Breckenridge, a recent avalanche-related death, 21-year-old Daniel Giger (accident at Breckenridge), 26-year-old Bill Brockmuller (collision at Eldora), 53-year-old Daniel Mares of Arvada (cardiac event at Keystone Resort), 66-year-old Durwood Marshall of Silverthorne (cardiac event at Keystone Resort), and Bindu Sky Pomeroy (accident in Vail backcountry).
Out of the ten deaths that have already occurred, four happened in the backcountry (2 avalanche related, 2 other) and six have occurred at resorts around the state (3 cardiac events, 3 collisions).
Being approximately 45% through the ski season (which is expected to run between late October and mid-May – roughly 220 days), this puts Colorado on track to have approximately 22 skiing/snowboarding-related deaths during the 2018-2019 season.
How’s that stack up against other years? It’s on par with the highest total in more than ten years.
The deadliest year on the Colorado slopes over the past decade was the 2011-2012 season, during which 22 people died – 14 at resorts. This compares to an average of 12.45 deaths per season (from the 2006-07 season to the 2016-17 season), according to an in-depth analysis by the Summit Daily (See a full breakdown of those deaths here). In other words, Colorado is three deaths away from topping this average and on its way to surpassing it by an additional 75 percent.
A few factors that may help to explain this abnormally high death toll include an increased avalanche risk due to big snowfall, an observed increase in crowding on the slopes (particularly those near the Front Range), and a potential increase in novice participants due to Colorado’s continually booming population. The non-use of a helmet also continues to be a factor, though this tends to impact the death toll on a case-by-case basis.
If you’re headed to the slopes this season – whether it’s at a resort or in the backcountry – it’s crucial (as always) to exercise caution. If you’re not a great skier, avoid terrain above your skiing level (especially when it’s crowded). If you’re headed into the backcountry, take the classes that allow you to do so safely. If you’ve already done this, remember to always check conditions and forecasts (yes, that means every single time). If you’re not in great shape, don’t push it too hard on your first day back.
Accidents can happen involving skiers of all skill levels, but many accidents can be prevented by thinking ahead and avoiding unnecessary risk. It’s crucial that you stay aware and stay smart on the slopes for the safety of yourself and those around you.
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