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Safety on the slopes

Ski Corp. officials cite education, awareness efforts about dangers

Mike McCollum
Steamboat Resort will open the Morningside area Thursday.
Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs — The father of a 22-year-old who died Friday at Steamboat Ski Area thinks more signs pointing out tree well danger are needed on Mount Werner and at ski resorts everywhere. — The father of a 22-year-old who died Friday at Steamboat Ski Area thinks more signs pointing out tree well danger are needed on Mount Werner and at ski resorts everywhere.

— The father of a 22-year-old who died Friday at Steamboat Ski Area thinks more signs pointing out tree well danger are needed on Mount Werner and at ski resorts everywhere.

“You’ve lost two people out there in two weeks, so it’s obviously a problem,” Stephen Daniel said Tuesday from the family’s home in Auburn, Mass.

His son, Jared Daniel, died after falling into a tree well and suffocating on the intermediate Snooze Bar trail in Morningside Park. On Jan. 15, 45-year-old Mark Joseph Stout of Ottsville, Pa., died under similar circumstances, also in Morningside Park. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials said Tuesday that while safety is the resort’s utmost priority, there are not yet specific plans to increase safety information to skiers and snowboarders about the dangers of tree wells.

“We’re going to do everything we can to think through this and augment what we can do, especially when it comes to tree skiing,” said Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer and vice president of sales and marketing for Ski Corp. and its parent company, Intrawest.

Ski Corp. spokesperson Mike Lane said skiing is an inherently dangerous sport and that resort officials have made extensive efforts to educate visitors about safety.

“We have the (Skier Code of Conduct) printed on every trail map, and skier education information is displayed on TV displays throughout the gondola area,” he said. “Our main goal is to provide a safe experience to all of our guests.”

Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Tuesday that Daniel’s official cause of death was suffocation. That also was the cause of death for Stout, who was skiing with his 15-year-old daughter and friends when he fell behind the group on the intermediate Cowboy Coffee trail. Ski area officials and Ryg determined that Stout fell into a tree well.

Tree wells are unstable holes or depressions that form around the bases of trees when low branches prevent snow from filling in and creating snowpack around the trunk.

Ski Corp.’s safety education efforts include the SlopeWise safety initiative, which aims to increase safe and responsible skiing and riding through broadened awareness and consequences for unsafe conduct on the mountain.

Steamboat isn’t alone in its lack of safety information specifically about tree wells.

Loryn Kasten, director of public relations for Durango Mountain Resort, said ski officials are committed to displaying the skier code of conduct throughout the resort area, but the Southwest Colorado resort doesn’t have signage explaining tree wells or where they’re most likely to form.

“We also increased education efforts this year on the mountain by doubling the number of our yellow jacket volunteer ski patrol members from 32 to 70,” Kasten said. A skier died Jan. 10 at Durango after reportedly skiing off a cliff in blizzard conditions.

“We do try to get out the safety message of what it takes to ski and board safely on every part of the mountain – trees and groomed trails,” she said.

Keystone Ski Area officials also don’t post warning signs about tree wells, said spokeswoman Kate Lessman.

“We do educate people about their responsibility on the slopes,” she said. “We enforce the Colorado Ski Safety Act, and we have created a ‘Play it Safe’ program to promote safety on the slopes.”

As part of that program, Keystone officials erected various skier education tents around the mountain to provide skiers with safety tips, including information on the dangers of tree skiing.

Ski and snowboarding deaths caused by suffocation are referred to as Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Deaths, or NARSIDs. Of the six deaths at the Steamboat Ski Area since 2000, four can be classified as NARSIDs.

Stephen Daniel said he hopes ski areas increase efforts to warn skiers and snowboarders about tree wells.

“More people are heading to the trees, like my son,” he said. “It just seems like a good idea to warn them about what they are getting into.”

– To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com


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