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Before You Take Kids Skiing, Read This

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Dr. Dan Gregorie's daughter died in a tragic ski accident. Now he has founded the California Ski and Snowboard Safety Organization, which advocates for standardized safety measures. Here's what he says every mom needs to know.

Jessica Gregorie

News of Natasha Richardson's traumatic ski injury brought back painful memories for Dr. Dan Gregorie. Yesterday would have been his daughter's birthday. But her life ended on the ski slopes a few years ago.

While snowboarding, Gregorie's 24-year-old daughter, Jessica, lost her balance as a result of the icy conditions and plunged 200 feet down a series of steep embankments. An autopsy revealed that Gregorie died from multiple internal and external injuries.

According to a press release from CSSSO, the area where Gregorie fell to her death did not have fences or warning signs in place, and no signs or fences were placed there following the accident.

Dr. Gregorie cannot comment on the specifics of his daughter's death due to pending litigation, but he wants to get the word out to moms about resort safety -- or lack thereof.

"What I'd say to most parents is that you really need to pay attention to where your kids are going for ski sport experience," he says.

Before you take your kids skiing or send your older kids on a ski trip, he recommends moms do the following:

- Call the ski resort and ask them for their safety policies, procedures and plans -- especially the accident prevention plans. "If they won't give them to you, I would not take my kids there," he says. "As a parent, pay special attention to resorts you are choosing. Most of their focus is on telling the customer what they need to do to stay safe. But what is the resort doing operationally to keep skiers safe?"

"I assumed with my own daughter that a resort knows where the risks are and does what they can to mitigate those risks," he says. "You think that they are exercising due diligence and care, but that's not always the case. In California, there's no accountability, responsibility, or liability for ski resorts."

- Ask the resort: "How many deaths and serious injuries did you have at your resort last year, and how does that compare to other resorts in the area?"

Dr. Gregorie warns that many resorts do not account for deaths that occur off-property. For instance, if a skier is injured on the slopes and then flown to a hospital where they later die, the resort does not calculate that fatality.

- If your kids are beginner skiers, look for a resort that has a separate beginners' area in a protected environment. Most resorts have beginners' slopes that merge into other slopes.

- Insist kids (and parents) wear a helmet at all times -- most states require motorcycle helmets, but no states require ski helmets. "But skiing is a risky sport -- anytime you're going 20 to 25 mph, in a crowded environment, it's a risk," Dr. Gregorie says. "Helmets are always recommended."

- Get your kid's skiing ability assessed by an expert, and make sure your kids only use slopes that align with their ability. "Most kids inflate their skiing ability in their own minds, putting themselves and other people at risk," Dr. Gregorie warns.

Currently, Dr. Gregorie's organization is trying to get legislation passed that would require California ski resorts to:
- report all deaths and serious injuries that occur at their resorts.
- post their safety plans both on their websites and at their resorts.
- standardize signage for hazards and traffic management, and standardize the way they grade slopes.

"There's a lot that can be done in the area of accident prevention and safety," says Dr. Gregorie. "No, you can't prevent all the accidents, but there are most definitely things that resorts can do to minimize the risks."

next: Julia Roberts Tells a "Bleeping" Story
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
harold burbank March 19, 2009, 11:48 AM

I do considerable volunteer work for brain injury victim skiers, but would never support laws mandating adult ski helmets. I’ve skied 40 years, sans helmet, for the reason that helmeted skiing is not skiing to me. See the work of Scottish ski helmet medical expert Dr. Mike Latham, who concluded that helmets have virtually NO injury prevention effect on impacts of over 20 mph, and thus he does not support mandatory adult ski helmet laws.

The case for child and adolescent helmet laws is easier to make, but the helmet choice decision should still remain with families, not ski areas and governments.

patty corn March 19, 2009, 3:19 PM

Many beginners do not wear a helmet. It doesn’t appear necessary as most beginners are on a bunny hill with barely an incline. You would think that is the least dangerous area of the resort.

But that is wrong.

A helmet is not just for experts or dare devils. Or to protect you from trees or collisions. A helmet is very necessary on a beginner slope because that is where the most mistakes regarding safety are made. Beginner snowboarders tend to forget to attach their leash and many a time an errant board comes hurtling down the hill, a VERY dangerous situation…especially if it were to hit a head. Beginners tend to be out of control and many have poles when they shouldn’t, they become moving weapons as they speed done the hill unable to stop.

I have been an instructor for many years at a little hill in Nj and one of my favorite instructions to new skiers and their parents? Buy a helmet!

Immobilier Bretagne March 6, 2011, 6:23 PM

When I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any approach you may remove me from that service? Thanks!

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bikram yoga April 8, 2011, 12:55 AM

Aw, this was a really great post. In theory I’d like to write like this also - taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

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