In this article, ski and snowboard expert, Raul Guisado, discusses two types of potentially hazardous situations found at ski and snowboard terrain parks.
TERRAIN PARK SAFETY
Ski and snowboard areas have made great strides in improving terrain park safety over the years. However, potentially hazardous situations can still be found at terrain parks. In my experience, poorly designed or maintained terrain park enclosures and jumps still exist at some venues. In incidents that I have investigated, collisions and falls resulting in injury would have been prevented through the use of proper design and/or maintenance.
In this article, I discuss two types of hazards that can be found at ski and snowboard area terrain parks and some precautions that area operators should take to provide a safer environment for their guests.
Terrain Park Enclosures – Fencing, rope, ribbon, and other barricades used to control entry to or exit from a terrain park and/or a feature (e.g. half-pipe) within a terrain park.
Serious collisions and injury can occur when children and novice skiers and snowboarders venture into a terrain park and/or encounter a terrain park feature. The top entry into a terrain park or feature should be well-defined and placed at a point where an alternative route can be taken. In addition, the side boundaries of the park should provide sufficient buffer to prevent collisions between skiers and snowboarders within and outside of the terrain park. The exit of the terrain park or feature should allow sufficient distance for terrain park users to slow down while also requiring riders to reduce their speed before entering an intersecting trail.
Jump Design – Steepness of approach slope, approach length, take-off length, take-off width, take-off ramp curvature, take-off height, jump distance, jump type (e.g. tabletop, step-down, step-up, gap, hip, spine, channel gap, etc.), landing width, landing length, and steepness of landing slope.
Area operators must take safety into consideration when designing any jump within a terrain park. Serious injury can occur on a jump of any size and the risk for injury increases significantly with design flaws. For example, if the approach to the jump is too long or steep for the landing, excessive speeds will likely be reached that can result in the skier or snowboarder overshooting the landing area. In addition, if the curvature of the take-off ramp is too great, skiers and snowboarders can become unintentionally inverted and unable to land on their feet. If the landing area is too short and/or too flat, landing impact forces will be amplified.
Terrain Park Safety Precautions
- Ensure that terrain park boundaries are well defined and that adequate fencing and closures are in place (e.g. entrance to park, entrance to half-pipe, exit of park, etc.).
- Post messaging to encourage helmet use and riding within abilities at terrain park entrance.
- Post NSAA SMART (Start small, Make a plan, Always look, Respect, Take it easy) terrain park safety messaging at terrain park entrance.
- Post terrain park feature size rating (small, medium, large) and ability level at terrain park entrance.
- Design feature size and difficulty that are appropriate for the intended rating and ability level of the terrain park.
- Ensure that the slope and distance between features provide flow and speed control appropriate for the intended rating and ability level of the terrain park.
- Place flags at the sides of jump take-off points so that riders can assess wind direction and to enhance the visibility of the take-off area.
- Inspect, test, and maintain terrain parks and features before opening each day and throughout the day to ensure safety.
- Ensure that pads and protective fencing for trees, lift towers, and other structures within or near the terrain park are in the proper position at all times.
- Ensure that a protocol is in place for park staff to quickly close the park and/or specific features if dangerous conditions develop (e.g. poor visibility, strong winds, very hard/fast snow, very wet/slow snow, etc.).
WINTER SPORTS INVESTIGATIONS
Our experts are often retained to investigate severe injuries at ski and snowboard areas and other winter sports parks. The scope of our investigations will typically include an analysis of how the injury happened and the condition of the equipment and environment in which it occurred.
For more information visit our Winter Sports practice page.
Raul is an expert in the sports of skiing and snowboarding. He is a former U.S. Ski Team World Cup and Olympic coach and has extensive experience analyzing ski and snowboard terrain and safety protocol. Raul has coached and prepared athletes who competed in the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and has earned the highest possible ski coaching certification level from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (Alpine-Level 500).