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California Senate passes ski safety legislation

May 23, 2013

Would require resorts to report on plans

In a vote along party lines, the California State Senate on Monday, May 13, passed a bill requiring all ski resorts in the state to prepare and make public their safety plans.

The legislation, introduced by State Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), passed on its third reading, 24-8, with six senators abstaining.

It would require every ski resort in the state to prepare an annual safety plan and, upon request, make the safety plan available to the public the same day the request is received.

The bill would also require a ski resort to make available to the public, within 30 days of receipt of a request, a monthly report with specified details about any fatal incidents at the resort that resulted from a recreational activity.

Organizations including the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) and a number of California resorts argued that the bill’s provisions would open the door for increasing lawsuits against ski resorts.

The bill would specify that its provisions do not change the existing assumption of risk doctrine as it applies to ski resorts in California.

“This article does not change the existing assumption of risk doctrine as it applies to ski resorts,” the final clause of the bill’s text reads.

The bill has the backing of the California Ski and Snowboard Safety Organization (CSSSO), which annually issues a “Family Safety Report Card” spotlighting what the group describes as varying and inconsistent safety and accident prevention practices at California mountain resorts.

The CSSSO report is authored by Dick Penniman, a former ski patroller who has testified as an expert witness in numerous lawsuits filed against ski areas for injuries incurred on their slopes.

The non-profit CSSSO was founded by Dr. Dan Gregorie, who lost his daughter Jessica in an accident at Alpine Meadows near Lake Tahoe on February 5, 2006, when she skied off a cliff between marked runs.

The California Ski Industry Association (CSIA), however, questions the group’s motives.

“The ski areas declined to participate due to the well-known biases of the author,” Bob Roberts, the CSIA’s president and CEO, said of the Resort Family Safety Survey in a letter addressed to NBC 4 Television in Los Angeles, which prepared a story based on the CSSSO report in February.

The survey was sent to resorts by the CSSSO in the summer of 2012 to obtain the most current information on resort safety practices and policies that specifically requested resort safety plans and information on policies and practices such as death and injury tracking and reporting, reckless skier monitoring and sanctions, alcohol service on slopes, child helmet-use requirements and child requirements, among other key factors important to safety.

No resort responded to the survey.

“The questions have no foundation in national industry practices and fail to address the behavioral side of the safety equation. Winter sports require conditioning, training, proper equipment and judgment,” Roberts asserted.

“Skiing and snowboarding are gravity sports practiced above 6,000 feet in winter weather conditions that are subject to sudden and powerful changes. We are not amusement parks.”

The bill now advances to the State Assembly. If passed there, it will move on to the Governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

Its fate there, however, would be uncertain. In 2011 California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, vetoed another ski safety bill that required skiers and riders under 18 to wear a helmet at all California resorts.

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