It’s the ski season and I am heading off to the slopes. Anyone else doing the same may also have Michael Schumacher’s recent accident in mind. It’s worth asking the question - just how safe is the popular seasonal pursuit?
Skiing, as a sport, comes with inherent danger. It is an extreme sport, and injuries and accidents are relatively common place – albeit, most of the time, minor. However, as anyone who has skied would know, it would be rare for the plane home not to involve at least one person boarding with a newly acquired plaster cast.
Skiing accidents can range from a sprained ankle through to life-changing incidents such as paralysis or brain damage, or in the worst cases, death. For most of us who ski safely on the piste within our own levels of ability, we risk little more than a sprain or a broken bone. For those who ski off-piste, extreme ski in the park, heli-ski, or ski at high speeds, the inherent risks are greater. Prevention is always better than the cure, and skiers need to take responsibility for their own safety.
Whilst skiing may result in accidents, few are as a result of negligence. This means that most of the time, you are unable to claim for your injuries. Your travel insurance will cover the costs of your hospital treatment if required, and the cost of getting you home, particularly if you need three seats on the plane to fit in your plaster cast.
So, in what instances could you make a claim for your injuries? Most likely this is where you are involved in a collision with another skier or snowboarder, and it is their – not your - fault. Perhaps they have lost control, or are skiing too fast, or are not looking where they are going or are not giving you enough space. Problems are sometimes caused by snowboarders who fly onto the piste from a great height over blind jumps with little idea of who may be ahead until it is too late. Snowboarders have caused serious injuries to other skiers’ shoulders and chests in this manner. I am aware of a snowboarder hitting a skier in the chest, breaking three of her ribs, and then snowboarding off blissfully unaware leaving the skier in a crumpled heap behind them.
Accidents often happen on ski lifts as a result of user error - poor exit or entry technique, but for a claim to be made there would need to be negligence – the ski lift would need to be faulty, or not properly maintained and have caused the accident for example. This is rare. Most lift accidents are caused by the inability to balance on a t-bar or to dismount gracefully from a chair. It’s not easy...
Sometimes, the injury is a result of faulty hire equipment. It is really important that shops take care to ask appropriate questions when hiring skis about the ability of the skier, and measure both the height and weight of the skier, along with their shoe size. At the shop I go to, they weigh and measure you to avoid any vanity-based underestimates by the skier. It matters because, without this information, the bindings will not be properly set. In a collision, the skis may not release, resulting in unnecessary broken legs. Indeed, claims have succeeded in exactly these circumstances.
Rarely, the ski instructor may be liable for the injuries sustained e.g. if he leads the class into difficult terrain way beyond their abilities, or takes skiers down slopes with inadequate training.
Occasionally, injuries may be the fault of the resort, if they dig great holes in the piste, or park their snowploughs around blind corners, or, worse still, crash into people with their skidoos. It is rare that the unprotected skier will come off well in a collision with a 10 tonne snowplough.
If there has been negligence and you need to make a claim, you need a personal injury lawyer who specialises in claims abroad as there are different legal systems in different countries. If you have had an accident whilst skiing in Canada or the US, the law can even vary from state to state. Your travel insurance may cover your legal expenses, or you may find a lawyer willing to offer you a ‘no win no fee’ agreement. You need an expert.
Fortunately, negligence is rare, and accidents are just that– accidents – and there is no-one to blame but yourself and your dodgy skiing technique. So, accepting that it is a dangerous sport, how can you reduce your risk? Firstly, wear a helmet. They are compulsory in some parts of America and Canada, but optional in Europe. Yet, you would be a fool not to wear one. They can truly save your life, and certainly reduce the risk of brain injury on a collision.
Secondly, follow the rules. Look in every direction before starting out down the slope. Show respect – give the person in front of you priority, do not endanger others and leave plenty of space between you and other skiers when overtaking. Ski in a controlled way, and adapt yourself to the conditions – if a slope is crowded, slow right down. If you need to stop, do it at the edge of the piste, not the middle. And watch out for the piste markings, particularly the black and yellow ‘danger’ indicators.
Thirdly, if you do have an accident, or witness an accident, and someone is injured – treat it like a car accident -exchange details and call for emergency assistance.
Skiing is great fun, and is good for your spirit as well as your physical health. Accidents do happen, but with common sense, can be avoided. Take care, and see you on the slopes.