2016 Executive Summary
The information contained in the 2016 California Mountain Resort Safety Survey is based on data collected from 19 mountain resorts during the 2015-2016 winter season on mid-week days in January, February and March. Two resorts in Northern California and all six resorts in Southern California were not included because of early closure due to low snowfall. The remaining resorts will be surveyed and added to this survey report as early as feasible in the 2016-2017 season.
During each visit to a mountain resort, attempts were made to observe the use of important safety practices that could be measured objectively and that didn’t depend on, for example, the weather or the size of the crowd on a particular day. There are additional safety measures and practices equally important to patron safety, but they could not be observed or measured independently of those factors. There were four categories of observed practices: Impact Protection, Trail Design and Maintenance, Boundary Management and Terrain Park Management. Scores reported apply only to 17 practices in the first two categories.
The items surveyed were those a resort patron should expect to see at any resort on a typical day. To avoid any special preparation by mountain resorts, survey visits were made anonymously and unannounced. The scores assigned to each mountain resort are based on a “snapshot” visit on a single mid-week day. The surveys reflect those safety measures that were observed throughout most, if not all, the resort. Below is a summary of the observation and reporting process, a description of the Survey Task Group and the specific scoring methodology applied for each observed safety measure. All reported safety measures are considered to have equal standing. No attempt was made or intended to offer a qualitative assessment or value judgment. Rather, the attachment of alternative significance or importance, if any, to the reported safety measures is left entirely to the judgment of the reader.
Scoring and Statistical Analysis
For analysis, the resorts are separated into two groups by size as follows: Small: three chair lifts or fewer and Large: more than three chairlifts. In general, the smaller resorts have much less complex terrain and less area to cover and should be expected to have higher scores on average than the large resorts. Their scores on this Survey confirm this expectation; mean and median of 7.33 and 7.01 for small resorts vs. 5.59 and 6.03 for the large resorts.
Scoring was not adjusted by use of a curve or any other method. In general, the 19 resorts scored significantly better (mean of 6.5 and median of 6.6) on Trail Design and Maintenance safeguards vs. Impact Protection practices (mean of 5.5 and median of 5.2). All of the 15 large resorts surveyed scored under an average of seven out of ten overall. Their overall mean score was 5.59 out of ten. Their median score was 6.03. The standard deviation was 1.07, indicating
that the greatest number of resorts scored between 4.5 and 6.5. Two large resorts scored less than four out of ten and four scored less than five out of ten. Only two large resorts had both mean and median scores of 6.5 or higher: KIRKWOOD AND DODGE RIDGE. Although these two resorts have the best overall average scores, all of the resorts have significant variability in their scores for many of the 17 practices and safeguards observed and all of them have substantial opportunities for improvement.
Overall, for five of the practices and safeguards, most of the resorts consistently had mean scores in the 7.5 to 9.5 range with median scores in the nine to ten range: Impact protection of exposed air and water snowmaking pipes, Impact protection of vehicles parked on the trails, Impact protection of beginner trail trees, Safeguards for areas of trail constriction/congestion and Safeguards for traffic in learning areas. For five other practices and safeguards, most of the
resorts consistently had mean sores between two and four and median scores between two and five: Impact protection for lift related structures, Impact protection of snow making hydrants and guns, Impact protection of outbuildings, Safeguards for moving hazards, and Safeguards for extreme terrain hazards. Scores for the seven other practices and safeguards show wide variability from resort to resort.
A major cause of consistently low impact protection practice scores among many of of resorts is their use of inadequate padding or shielding. The padding widely used by most of them will only cushion an impact of 5 to 7 mph. The average skier travels at over 25 mph and frequently reaches speeds over 35 mph. Padding rated for impacts up to 35 mph is readily available. Catch fencing (FIS “B Fencing”) though not test rated, is also considered to be be effective at speeds up to 35 mph.
On average, the 15 large resorts improved their mean scores by .31 points since 2010. However, nine improved and six lost ground. Two of the resorts improved their scores by over two points. Kirkwood showed the greatest improvement at 2.46 points. Only one resort had an overall average score at or over 6.5 in both 2010 and 2016 – DODGE RIDGE. All of the six mean score reductions were less than one point with the two largest being Boreal Ridge at .9 and Northstar at .78. Three resorts had mean scores consistently below five out of ten year-over- year – Boreal Ridge, Sierra Summit (China) and Homewood. One resort scored consistently below four in both 2010 and 2016 – SIERRA SUMMIT (CHINA). In 2016, seven of the 18 resorts with chair lifts had safety bars on all of their lifts vs. two in 2010.
The average score for the four small resorts is 7.33 out of ten. Two had mean scores between six and seven and one scored between seven and eight. Granlibakken stood out from the rest with a mean score of 8.68 out of ten. All of the four small resorts improved their scores an average of 1.18 since 2010 and Granlibakken showed the greatest improvement at 1.81 out of ten.
Statistical analysis of the overall resort average scores as well as the resort scores for each of the 17 practices and safeguards can be found in the Appendices to this Survey.
Note: Granlibkken is the smallest resort in California. It has only one surface lift that accesses one slope rising about 100 feet.