Ski patrollers Svend Egholm, left, and Scotty Sommerhoff wrap up a packet containing a backboard, blankets and splints to be used on rescue toboggans at the Steamboat Ski Area on Thursday afternoon.  Patrollers transport injured skiers and snowboarders down the mountain in the toboggans.

Photo by Brian Ray

Ski patrollers Svend Egholm, left, and Scotty Sommerhoff wrap up a packet containing a backboard, blankets and splints to be used on rescue toboggans at the Steamboat Ski Area on Thursday afternoon. Patrollers transport injured skiers and snowboarders down the mountain in the toboggans.

Safer on the slopes

Hospital, Ski Patrol seeing less ski injuries this season

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— Despite crowded slopes fueled by throngs of holiday visitors, ski-related accidents and calls for Search and Rescue are down so far this ski season, officials said Thursday.

Yampa Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said of the 195 patients seen in the hospital's emergency department from Dec. 22 through Wednesday, 63 of those were seen for skiing or snowboarding injuries.

During the same dates last year, 73 of the 223 emergency patients were skiers or snowboarders.

John Kohnke, ski patrol director at Steamboat Ski Area, also said this season has seen an average to below-average amount of skiing accidents.

"It's really not any different than any year," Kohnke said. "With the better snow conditions : it goes down."

As the ski resort prepares for its busiest time - from Christmas into the first week of January - Kohnke said the ski patrol's focus is educating people to ski and ride safely.

"The big thing, and our primary responsibility, is accident prevention," Kohnke said. "The real message is to keep accident rates low. We remind people to ski and ride with care."

Skiers and riders need to observe the slow-skiing zones, where accidents tend to happen, Kohnke said. He added that for snowboarders, slow-skiing zones also are no-jib zones. For Routt County Search and Rescue, the new snow also hasn't meant more calls.

"It's hard to say why we haven't had as many calls, but you hope it's that people are being safer," Search and Rescue member Darrel Levingston said. "You hope they're going up better prepared."

Levingston said the best way to stay out of a risky situation is to be prepared.

"Anybody that goes out in the woods, even if it's a two-hour snowshoe or snowmobile trip, always need to be prepared to spend the night," Levingston said. "If something does happen, it could be the difference between life and death."

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