The Big Question: Is skiing now so dangerous that speed limits should be imposed?

Why are we asking this now?

A Swiss insurance firm, Suva, has put its weight behind a campaign to reduce the speed at which skiers descend the mountain. As skiing becomes more popular, as resorts expand their accommodation but not necessarily their skiing areas, and as the pistes become faster and more crowded, accidents are on the increase.

How big a problem are collisions on the slopes?

The emergency services in Austria, Germany and Switzerland agree that not only are there more speed-related accidents, but that the injuries incurred are more serious, and that fatalities are inevitable. Suva's research revealed that skiers can reach up to 44mph when descending, the kind of speed when the slightest misjudgment can be very bad news indeed – for the skier, and especially for anyone in the skier's way.

Advances in equipment technology and the rise of the harder-to-control snowboard are among other factors contributing to the trend. And although fatal collisions are rare, they always heighten anxieties, such as the incident on New Year's Day in southern Austria in which a mother of four and a German politician, Dieter Althaus, collided, leaving her dead and with him seriously injured. This came a week after a 16-year-old Italian was remanded in custody after a collision with a 51-year-old man in the Dolomites. The boy failed to stop and two days after the incident the man died.

So has skiing become very high-risk?

It's all relative. There are no overall statistics on skiing injuries across the world, but individual studies suggest people's fears may be exaggerated. The Aviemore-based sports injury research facility ski-injury.com reports that only 1.74 alpine skiers per 1,000 will sustain an injury, so statistically it's safer than a game of football. In addition, only 10 per cent of skiing injuries are caused through collisions. Most are caused by the skier either falling over, or skiing into a tree or other object.

How hard is it to avoid skiing into someone?

Most accidents happen when people get tired, so the last run of the day is traditionally quite busy for emergency services. Even on the widest of skiing motorways, it is very possible to collide with another skier – spatial awareness is a key element to mastering alpine skiing. Certain resorts have "pinch points" where a lot of traffic passes at the end of the day as people funnel down the mountain, and when boy racers lose patience and decide to queue-jump the orderly procession, people get knocked over.

Are there too many people on the slopes?

According to the Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB), since 2001 the total snowsports travel market has increased by 23 per cent. That's nearly a quarter additional skiers using, in many cases, the same acreage of space. In many resorts, it is simply not possible to create more runs, as the land is often privately owned, belongs to protected national parks, or doesn't have the right topography to allow for easy access. Last season was a bumper year for skiers, with superb snow conditions across much of Europe and North America; to this end, some 1.35m travellers headed for the slopes, an increase of three per cent on the previous season. This season is heading the same way.

Are helmets the answer?

At the moment, there is no law on wearing a "lid" on the slopes, but the SCGB recommends that children under 13 wear one, and leaves it up to the discretion of the individual from there on up. The helmet has become a fashion statement in recent years, and is used by all professional freeriders and boarders, who spend their entire time jumping out of helicopters in the most remote ski fields in the world. By wearing one you can associate with this romanticism, even if you never stray from the piste, so this is a force for good. Having said that, the helmet does lead some people to think that they can take more risks as they are protected, so it leads to a false sense of security.

Why are boarders and skiers such a combustible mix?

This could be the subject of its own Big Question, but generally the two approach the mountain in two entirely different ways. A skier has to have attained a level of proficiency in order to tackle the slopes that a snowboarder will not have had to. In short, there are more "bad" amateur snowboarders who take to the slopes than there are "bad" amateur skiers. Snowboards – which attract the younger and possibly more reckless thrill-seeker – simply don't have the same control and grip as two, independently controlled skis, and without a set of poles, a boarder who wants a rest simply sits down, which makes them less visible and therefore more vulnerable to potential collision. Some resorts in the US, such as Deer Valley in Utah, have a no-boarders rule.

Is anything being done to make skiing safer?

The Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) has Ten Rules of Conduct for skiers and boarders around the world. Crucially it requires individuals to keep within their speed limits, and for skiers coming from behind to make sure they give enough space to the skier below so as not to endanger them. Quite a lot is down to commonsense, such as making sure that you look before joining a piste, remove yourself to the side of the piste if you have a fall, and assist others who may be in trouble.

In most North American and Canadian resorts, and many European resorts, ski instructors have the power to confiscate ski passes from users who they see as travelling downhill in a way that is likely to endanger others. In the US, they will also bust you if they think you are skiing under the influence of alcohol.

When are the slopes at their safest?

Away from school holidays, and over lunchtimes. In France – by far the most popular destination for UK skiers and snowboarders – many of its schools have a half-term that coincides with the English half-term beginning 16 February. So best to keep an extra look-out if you're going then.

What else should every skier know?

While the chances are that you are not going to do or get caught in an avalanche, going off-piste always carries dangers for the inexperienced. Modern skis have become fatter and encourage use off-piste, but the skills to use them often don't match up. This is when people get into trouble, when they are caught in terrain that they don't understand, without a guide and without adequate safety equipment. The truth is that you should never venture off-piste without a guide, no matter what the conditions, and certainly never alone. Chances are you don't know the mountain well enough.

Always be aware of skiers and boarders in front of you, and never stop at pinch points. Never go for that last little jump on your final run down. Never drink too much at lunchtime. And always take out winter sports insurance.

So is it time skiers were forced to slow down?

Yes...

* Too many people think they can strap on snowboard and rule the red runs. They need to be taught a lesson

* Even if there is only one fatality a year resulting from a collision, that is too many

* Skiing is supposed to be an enjoyable pastime – on the piste everyone should abide by the rules

No...

* People who choose to go on the slopes know the risks and can take responsibility for themselves

* The overwhelming majority of skiers are unlikely to injure themselves or others

* Whatever next? Prosecution because of a bit of harmless queue-barging?

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape