Skiing and snowboarding are inherently risky sports, and there’s no way to completely avoid all possible injuries or mishaps. You can, however, take steps to reduce the risks you take on the slopes.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA)endorses a responsibility code, and signs referring to its campaign—”Know the Code”—are posted at resorts across the country. Some states have even incorporated these principles into their statutes and laws regarding winter sports, and this season the NSAA has made a available for those who want to see the principles of the code in action.
Here’s a run-down of the NSAA’s code, as well as reasons why you need to know and follow it:
1. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
Just about everyone on the slopes has had the experience of some crazy, out-of-control skier or snowboarder almost mowing him or her down on a free-flight down the mountain. It’s no fun. The fact is, it’s up to you to stay in control of your speed, and to know how to stop and avoid people and obstacles. There’s no excuse here. No matter how fast you’re going, always be ready to stop.
2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
This is an important principle, and it relates to the first rule. The people in front of you have the right of way. Period. No matter how much they’re taking up space or how wrong they are for being where they are, they have the right of way. Even when they’re not following the code (see the next rule), it’s up to you to avoid them.
3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
With all of that said, don’t be one of those people who stop in the middle of a trail to send a text or admire the view. You simply can’t obstruct trails. If you need to stop, go to the side of the trail.
4. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
If this sounds like a traffic rule, it’s because it is. Skiers and snowboarders hurtling down a mountain are rather like traffic on a fast-moving highway, and you have to look both ways (OK, mostly up) to make sure that there is room for you to pull out. When the traffic is clear, you can start. This principle is especially important when merging, since sometimes people coming down one trail won’t even realize they’re merging onto another one, and they simply might not see you. You need to watch out for yourself.
5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
Most modern skis come equipped with brakes, so that any time your boot pops out of the bindings, the brake engages. Make sure that your skis have them, and if they don’t, get some installed. Snowboarders also need to wear retention straps, which keep loose boards from sliding down the mountain. These kinds of protections are important, because a wayward ski or snowboard can be a dangerous hazard to others who might hit it.
6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
Signs and warnings are posted, and trails are closed, for good reasons. Don’t second-guess the resort authorities; they know what they’re doing. Sometimes a trail will be closed because of rocks, tree stumps, or other obstacles, and following all signs, directions and warnings will help keep you safe.
7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
A large part of the skiing and snowboarding learning curve involves using lifts correctly. And that’s easier said than done. Make sure when you’re boarding a lift to go up to the designated line, and as the lift approaches, bend your knees slightly to catch it. Settle into the seat and pull down the safety bar when everyone is in. It’s also a good idea to let everyone else in the lift know when the bar is going down. When disembarking, glide down the ramp and get out of the way of people coming off the next chair.
The NSAA emphasizes that this is a partial list, and many states have their own codes, statutes, and laws that you’ll want to consult. These rules are a good place to start, however, and following them will help you stay safe and also make your time on the slopes more enjoyable.
Vivian Wagner is a writer and skier in New Concord, Ohio. Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.