The ski industry has set some safety guidelines for everyone who hits the slopes, whether skiing or riding. The most important thing is knowing the seven points in the Skier Responsibility Code, and making sure your kids know them, too. Parents can teach their kids about the etiquette of being on the hill and the responsibility of safety. Look for the sign in the base area where the code is listed and go over it with the whole family. You'll be glad you did.
Many children's ski school instructors place an emphasis on teaching children the way to behave and stay safe on the mountain.
"We train our staff to understand how kids' development affects their ability to interpret the Skier Responsibility Code," says Stratton Mountain's Alison Cummings. "What it means is that you may be able to talk to a 14-year-old about it, but you need to act it out with a four-year-old. If you stand at the top of a knoll, you can better explain what will happen if you go blasting out onto the run, without looking first. It's a more hands-on and concrete experience, instead of abstract. They actually can see what will happen."
It's the same with parents explaining the rules to their kids. Cummings says, "People need to understand they are responsible for the people in front of them, no matter how erratic that person's skiing or snowboarding is."
Wes Richey, a long-time Rocky Mountain ski patroller, agrees. He says the downhill skier always has the right of way, "especially on catwalks, it's not like a highway where you use your turning signal when changing lanes. It's a freeform thing. When people are overtaking others, the downhill skier has the right of way, and you have to avoid them."
Richey is full of good tips, with the number one being kids have to wear helmets. He also says if you're skiing with a big group, have a meeting place every single run, every time you go somewhere. He says, "It's just like Disneyland, 'if we get separated, let's meet here.' It saves a lot of tears, from the kids and the parents."
Richey also says it is the responsibility of all parties involved to exchange information if you are in a collision with another skier or rider. It's even a state law in Colorado. You have to stay at the scene and make sure all names and addresses are exchanged. Contact ski patrol. Stick your skis upright in the snow if someone is injured, and make sure the skis are crossed. Ski patrol will find you quickly.
He says always ski and ride within your ability. Watch out for tree wells and hidden rocks, trees and cliffs. Always ski with someone else. Always look before you blast out onto the trail when skiing off-trails or in the trees, when skiing onto a run from the trees, or hitting the "whoop-de-dos."
One way to help protect your kids is to write down your phone numbers on a card, and laminate it. That's what all of the younger kids do in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Blair Seymour is the Alpine Youth Program Director, and she organized it after her own kids became lost on the mountain.
"In case a child gets separated from the ski group, he or she can show the card to a lift operator or another adult on the mountain who might have a cell phone. Then we can reunite coach and child."
The emergency card attaches to their lift ticket or pass. It has their name and program, as well as the coach's contact information, and the contact information for their parents. I put the number of ski patrol dispatch on the card my kids carry, in case there is an accident and we have to call for ski patrol.