Vail Ski and Snowboard Safety

By Traci Macnamara

Skiing and snowboarding are at the heart of the Vail Valley lifestyle. These adventurous mountain activities draw people from all over the world to play — and stay — in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Having a safe experience is central to having an enjoyable experience, so take some time to review these safety tips before you slide off of a chairlift and onto the snow this winter season.

Vail Snow Safety Preparations

Fitness is an important part of preparing for a safe day out on the slopes. While general fitness will certainly add to your comfort level, even if skiing and snowboarding isn’t a part of your normal routine, sport-specific preparation can also enhance performance and reduce the chance of injury. Training for flexibility and agility in addition to strength can improve fitness for skiing and snowboarding, and this combination of physical skills contributes to on-snow success.

Remember to hydrate in preparation for a day of Vail skiing or snowboarding, especially if you’re new to the area. The high and dry climate can quickly cause dehydration, which can lead to a physical emergency if not addressed. Be sure to drink plenty of water before heading out on the mountain too, as it is sometimes difficult to tell how much you’ve sweat underneath layers of winter clothing.

Gear Safety

Having the proper skiing and snowboarding gear also contributes to on-mountain safety, and it requires some advance preparation. If you are in doubt about the suitability or safety of your gear, stop by a Vail ski or snowboard gear shop at the base of the mountain to have it checked out. And, for the sake of safety as well as comfort, consider renting new equipment to try out for the day if yours is especially old or outdated.

When renting equipment, you will likely be asked to report your skiing or snowboarding ability level. Be sure to report your level accurately, as it can be unsafe to rent equipment that doesn’t adequately match your abilities.

Dress for Success

In changing mountain weather, skiing and snowboarding safety requires that you choose appropriate, sport-specific clothing. Skiing and snowboarding jackets and pants that won’t become saturated with rain, sleet and snow can help counteract cold-weather injuries such as hypothermia. Proper clothing can also help prevent other severe injuries such as frostbite. 

Before you go skiing or snowboarding, do a head-to-toe clothing survey to make sure you have packed everything that you need in order to keep skin covered in cold weather, and dress in layers so you can shed clothing if you become too warm. Helpful items that are often overlooked include a neck gaiter, which can be pulled up to cover your face when it is cold, and a thin insulating hat to wear underneath a helmet. In your pockets, take lip balm that includes sun protection and sunscreen to reapply throughout the day, as the sun’s rays are especially intense at high altitudes and can cause injuries that range from mild sunburn to painful blisters. Plan to protect your eyes as well by wearing goggles that fit property and that don’t fog up to block your view.     

While helmets for skiing and snowboarding are not mandatory at Vail or Beaver Creek, they are a safe choice that can help prevent concussions or other injuries resulting from accidents or collisions, which can occur from no fault of your own.

Vail Mountain Safety: Know the Code

Once you’re confident that you have done important background and gear preparation for skiing and snowboarding, it’s time to get outside and get on the mountain. As with any other sport, it’s important to know the guidelines that contribute to safety.  

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has developed a list of seven safety guidelines called Your Responsibility Code to help skiers and snowboarders have a safe and enjoyable mountain experience. These seven key guidelines are as follows:

  1. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
  2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
  3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above.
  4. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
  5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
  6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
  7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.

Most importantly, the first guideline’s advice to always stay in control goes a long way toward protecting your safety. Don’t overestimate your abilities, especially if it has been a while since you have been on skis or a snowboard. And whether you’re someone who skis one week a year or as many days as possible, stay within your physical and mental limits to reduce the chance that you injure yourself or others.

While this list of guidelines covers the most important aspects of skiing and snowboarding safety, the list is only partial. Preparation and common sense go a long way when in a mountain environment, where it is important to remain flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions and terrain. If you are in a group, remain open to hearing the concerns or fears of others in your party, and make sure that the whole group proceeds at a level that’s safe and comfortable for each person.  

Emergency Response While Skiing in Vail

If you are involved in a skiing or snowboarding emergency, promptly call the on-mountain emergency number directly, or call 911. On-mountain emergency call numbers are usually listed on paper trail maps and on ski area maps located at key trail intersections. It’s a good idea to program these numbers into your phone in advance of an emergency for quick recall.

When making an emergency call for help, be prepared to give a precise location of the incident to the dispatcher who answers the call. It is best to report the name of the trail you are on and to describe key markers along the trail that will help responders pinpoint your location. You will also likely be asked to report your name and call back number before being asked to report the status of injured parties.

Stay on the line with the dispatcher and share details related to the injured person’s level of consciousness and breathing, especially if injuries are severe, so that the proper emergency medical response can be initiated. Report whether or not CPR is in progress in the event of a life-threatening emergency, and do not hang up, as a dispatcher may be equipped to give you life-saving advice until medical responders arrive.  

If you are involved in an accident in which you or someone else is injured, do not leave the scene. If possible, move out of the way of heavily trafficked areas or areas where others cannot see you from above. Cross a pair of skis or snowboards to signal that someone is injured, and wait for mountain safety representatives or medical professionals to arrive.

Vail Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding are popular activities in the Vail area, but when venturing outside of ski-area boundaries, it’s essential to be equipped with experience, knowledge and appropriate gear. The Vail backcountry has its own set of risks and dangers that might not be apparent within the bounds of a ski resort, including avalanche danger, unmarked obstacles, cliffs and varied snow conditions, among others. Navigation skills and an understanding of changing weather conditions are also important to safety in a backcountry setting.  

Prepare yourself for backcountry skiing or snowboarding by taking an avalanche safety course, and commit to the time it takes to develop a full repertoire of backcountry skills. Ski or snowboard with others experienced in backcountry travel to become immersed in important local knowledge, and progress at a pace that allows you to gain mastery of the skills involved.

While this level of commitment might not be possible for many who come to the here to visit for a limited time each year, Vail backcountry skiing and snowboarding may still be experienced safely with a local guide. Plus, hiring a local guide can have benefits that extend beyond safety. It can be rewarding to spend the day out in a beautiful setting with someone who knows the area’s history and who shares your enthusiasm for exploring special places that are off the beaten path.

Take Lessons

Just as it’s a safe choice to hire a local guide when venturing out into the Vail backcountry, hiring an instructor can help you hone your in-bounds skiing and snowboarding skills. Instructors can offer expert tips and demonstrate safe progressions that will lead you to achieve your ultimate skiing and snowboarding goals. Safety, in this way, can also be fun when sharing it with someone who has insider knowledge of those magical places on the mountain that you might not otherwise find.

Helpful Vail Ski and Snowboard Safety Links

https://www.nsaa.org/safety-programs/safety-facts-tips/skiing-snowboarding-tips

Your Responsibility Code: http://www.nsaa.org/safety-programs/responsibility-code