New measures will do little to make skiing safer

Ski accidents keep the Swiss Air Rescue busy Keystone

Measures introduced this season to make skiing safer are unlikely to put much of a dent in the tens of thousands of injuries each year, according to experts.

This content was published on January 16, 2006 - 09:49

Around 80,000 residents of Switzerland are injured every year either skiing or snowboarding in the Swiss Alps, and the total rises to over 100,000 when foreign tourists are added to the list.

The measures have been widely reported in the press in Switzerland and Britain. But, contrary to some of the sensational headlines, they are chiefly aimed at raising public awareness of the dangers.

The emphasis is on encouraging safer behaviour, with more training for ski patrol units and, in one resort, an experimental speed limit on one of the pistes, aimed at gauging whether such restrictions reduce accidents.

Since January 1, a two-kilometre stretch above the resort of Grindelwald has been subject to a 30km/h speed limit. But this is not expected to cramp the style of skiers, since the resort offers a total of 120 kilometres of runs.

Contrary to press reports, skiers caught speeding on this particular run will not be penalised but only asked politely to move to other slopes.

Fines

"We are not empowered to fine people," Peter Wenger of Jungfrau Railways, which operates the Grindelwald lifts, told swissinfo. "We believe the best measures are those which appeal to people to take responsibility for their own actions. No one wants to have too many rules regulating what is supposed to be a fun, leisure activity."

Fines for wayward skiers have long been commonplace in the Swiss Alps. Gamekeepers employed by the cantons have had for many years the right to fine skiers for ignoring no-go signs put up on the perimeters of nature or wildlife reserves.

Efforts are also underway to unify the training of ski patrol units and to make visitors more aware of the rules, following a recommendation issued at the beginning of the season by the Swiss Cable Car Association.

Spokesman Felix Maurhofer told swissinfo that the association was launching a training programme next season for ski patrol units to ensure they took a unified approach.

Rules of conduct

He added that the association intended to post signs in each resort listing the International Ski Federation's rules of conduct skiers are expected to follow, but that many are unaware of.

But Maurhofer admits that it will take time to get the message across, saying it would be "two to three years before all [signs] are in place".

The Swiss Accident Insurance Fund, Suva, is giving a dozen two-hour safety awareness courses (see video) at a handful of resorts this winter, in an attempt to reduce the number of injuries.

Safety

But the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention cautioned that there are many factors with a bearing on accident figures, and not just safety campaigns or measures.

The council's Magali Dubois told swissinfo more accidents occur when snow and weather conditions are good since there are more skiers on the slopes, and during winters with a generous number of public holidays.

She said a positive development was that more people were taking responsibility for their own safety.

The number wearing helmets more than doubled between 2003 and 2005 to 28 per cent, and sales have been brisk again this season.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel

Key facts

Injury figures (Swiss residents) for 2003 according to the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention:
49,660 skiers
28,890 snowboarders
They accounted for one-third of all sport injuries in Switzerland that year

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In brief

FIS rules of conduct cover these aspects:
- Respect for others
- Control of speed
- Choice of route
- Overtaking
- Entering, starting and moving upwards
- Stopping on the piste
- Climbing and descending on foot
- Respect for signs and markings
- Assistance
- Identification

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