Article

In this article, ski and snowboard expert, Raul Guisado, discusses the marking and guarding of two types of potentially hazardous obstacles found at ski and snowboard areas.

UNGUARDED OBSTACLES AT SKI AND SNOWBOARD AREAS

Although ski and snowboard areas have taken many steps to improve safety over the years, natural and man-made obstacles are still abundant on and around the slopes. In my experience, poorly marked and unprotected hazardous obstacles exist at virtually every venue, and injuries resulting from collisions with these hazards are a regular occurrence. In many of the incidents I have investigated, the struck obstacles were not readily visible from an uphill position, and injuries could have been prevented through the use of positive guidance and/or protective guards.

In this article, I discuss two types of obstacles that can be found at any ski and snowboard area and some of the precautions that area operators should take in marking and/or guarding obstacles in an effort to provide a safer environment for their guests.

Natural Obstacles– Bare spots, forest growth, rocks, stumps, streambeds, cliffs, trees and other natural objects.

Serious injury can occur when skiers and snowboarders encounter such hazards and area operators should strive to ensure that natural obstacles are properly marked when difficult to see and even guarded in some cases (e.g. a large tree or boulder located in the middle of a narrow groomed run or near the landing area of a terrain park jump).


Man-Made Obstacles– Chairlift towers, signs, posts, hydrants, water pipes, hoses, snow making machines, fences, enclosures, wires, water reservoirs, bridges, or other artificial structures and their components.

Area operators must take safety into consideration before placing any artificial obstacle within their boundaries and ensure that these obstacles are obstacles are visible and properly guarded if necessary.

Ski and Snowboard Area Obstacle Precautions

  • Inspect runs before opening each day and throughout the day to ensure that potentially hazardous obstacles are marked and/or guarded if necessary.
  • Ensure that pads covering lift towers and other structures are in the proper position at all times.
  • Routinely inspect all protective fencing, especially after weather events.
  • Mark and/or or guard obstacles difficult to see from an uphill position.
  • Warn skiers and snowboarders when snow coverage is minimal on any run.
  • Close runs in which snow coverage is insufficient for skiers and snowboarders to utilize safely.
  • Consider fall zones when protecting obstacles (e.g. runs with a side-hill).
  • Consider snow and weather conditions when guarding obstacles (e.g. fast snow and flat light).
  • Consider trail use when guarding obstacles (e.g. landing areas in terrain parks).
  • Consider all skier and snowboard levels and speeds when guarding obstacles (e.g. beginners and expert).

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.

 

Featured Expert

Raul Guisado, USSA Alpine Coach – Level 500

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).