As we return to the ski slopes once again those issues that used to concern us the most – what’s the snow like? How expensive is it to apres ski this season? …are gradually returning to the forefront of our minds as ‘living with the pandemic’ becomes gradually more the reality.
One issue we need to also remember is that winter sports do have their risks beyond catching COVID 19, the ones that were always there, and with a number of high profiled accidents already reported this season it’s important to be aware of how to minimise risk and also ensure you’ve got insurance in place if an issue that requires it does occur.
Chris Deacon, a partner in the International Injury Team at Stewarts Law and a specialist international injury lawyer who acts exclusively for the victims of accidents abroad and in disputes with tour operators, hotels, travel providers and insurers gives us his 10 tips for staying safe on the slopes this winter (and indeed any winter).
“Whether you are an experienced thrill-seeker or a fledgling novice, preparation is key to managing the risks that are an inevitable part of hitting the piste,” says Chris, who is described as a “superb travel lawyer …knowledgeable, tenacious, compassionate and intellectually astute,” by The legal 500.
Being properly insured is a basic starting point if you are a winter sports traveller. The costs of not being insured can be significant. If skiers do end up injured and being lifted to a private clinic or hospital by the pisteurs then without proper insurance cover, they could end up footing a hefty bill. If you forget to arrange insurance in advance you can buy it as a daily supplement to the lift pass in many resorts. You may also consider the services of a specialist global emergency response company, such as Northcott Global Solutions, who will provide 24-hour assistance in an emergency situation for you and your family wherever you may be travelling across the globe. It’s now a legal requirement to have insurance on the slopes in some countries including Italy, so you could be prosecuted there as well as losing out financially if you’re involved in an accident and don’t have cover.
Know The Rules of the Piste
Familiarise yourself with the rules set by the International Ski Federation (Federation Internationale du Ski or FIS). Both skiers and snowboarders should have regard to these rules, which form the “highway code” of the ski slopes in Europe. Similar rules are in place in Canada and the USA. The FIS rules are often the starting point when establishing who is responsible for an accident on the slopes.
Check The Slope Is Clear Before You Pull Out
Ski collisions have been described as road traffic accidents in the mountains. One of the most important rules set by the FIS is that the skier lower down the slope has priority. If you happen to be knocked to the ground by another skier who has approached from further up-slope then there is a good chance they have ignored or negligently flouted the rule that you have priority as a skier further down-slope. Not only could this expose the individual responsible to a substantial claim for civil damages, it might also result in the authorities taking criminal action.
To avoid a collision in the first place, be sure to carefully check further up the piste when setting off or at intersections when joining another piste. Make sure you remain visible to other skiers wherever possible. Give beginners a wide-berth when passing as they may turn, stop, fall in your path or not be as adept at moving to avoid a collision as you are.
Don’t Ski Drunk
Don’t ski drunk, it really does impair your abilities and judgment. In Italy new laws introduced in 2022 make it illegal to ski impaired by alcohol in a similar way to their strict drink-driving laws.
Look After Your Kit
Look after your ski equipment and make sure it is suitable for your requirements. It may sound surprising but faulty or poorly fitted ski equipment is the cause of many accidents each year. Ski resort equipment suppliers should be asking for your age, ability, height and weight before kitting you out. Make a note of this basic information in both metric and imperial before heading abroad and if the supplier doesn’t ask for these details then make sure you provide them. If you are involved in an accident that is caused by faulty equipment then it is important to have full details of who provided the equipment, what steps they went through when fitting the skis, bindings, and what exactly the problem was with the equipment that has caused injury. Take photos or video of the faulty equipment and make sure the equipment is preserved for an expert to comment on (you could try another ski hire shop), or for the local police to inspect.
Familiarise Yourself With the Slopes Before You Get Adventurous
It is not just faulty ski equipment or collisions caused by fellow skiers that can lead to injury. Back in 2012, the resort of Font-Romeu in France was ordered to pay almost €1million to a young woman who suffered multiple trauma when she hit a patch of ice on a green run, skidded off-piste and collided with some rocks. Familiarity with your surroundings will minimise the risk of such injuries.
Be Aware of The Local Helmet Law
Check out the position on the law for safety helmets in the destination country. In some resorts, it is compulsory to wear a helmet for certain age groups – generally children and teenagers. Ski schools also often require everyone learning with them to wear helmets, in part to comply with their own insurers. You should consider wearing a safety helmet and other protective ski equipment, such as a spine protector, particularly if you are feeling adventurous and may be heading off-piste.
Don’t Head Off-Piste Freeriding Without Being Prepared & Aware
If you do dare to venture off-piste then you should hire an experienced mountain guide and carry an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. It’s also wise to take introductory courses on skiing and safety off the groomed runs offered by most ski areas before you go off piste the first time. If you frequently go off-piste you could consider an ABS rucksack. While this may seem extreme, every year this basic safety equipment helps save lives in the event of an avalanche. Even if you have safely undertaken an off-piste route previously the conditions can vary day by day and local knowledge is essential. You should also check the small print of your travel insurance as off-piste is frequently excluded or subject to requirements such as being accompanied by a guide.
Be Aware What You’re Letting Yourself In For on Off-Slope Adventures
Think twice before signing up for potentially dangerous excursions such as snowmobiling, paragliding or any one of the dozens of exciting activities offered away from the ski slopes in resorts these days. They are as powerful as many large motorbikes and a loss of control can very rapidly turn into a serious accident. If you do go, make sure you receive full safety instructions and a chance to practice on level terrain, including an emergency stop. Again it’s important to check your insurance covers this type of activity.
Finally …If You Are Unlucky Enough To Have An Accident
If the worst comes to pass and you are involved in a skiing accident then you should:
– Take full details of anyone who may be responsible, including details of their insurer. It is possible that a seriously injured victim will not be able to react at the scene, so if you witness a serious collision then make sure anyone who may have been involved does not set off without leaving their details.
– Anyone who sets out on a skiing holiday should be adequately insured to cover not only the costs of their own medical treatment but also compensation to those they cause injury;
– Report the accident to the piste authorities and ask for a copy of the report;
– Report the incident to your insurers, regardless of who you think may be at fault for the accident;
– Make sure you note down the full name and contact details of any witnesses to an incident or accident;
– Take photos of the accident location and get someone in your group to return and make a sketch plan pin-pointing where the relevant parties were coming from and going to at the point of impact and of any other relevant landmarks or pointers which may be relevant to the accident circumstances.