We worked with the team at Smugglers Notch to answer some pressing questions on ski safety. Follow these tips and suggestions for a safe, fun day on the mountain!
In a non-COVID year, what are the most important aspects of mountain safety?
Simply put, skiing and snowboarding are all about managing risks. Therefore, the most important aspects of mountain safety involve identifying risks, planning for them, and protecting yourself and others from them. These risks can be caused by a number of elements, from environmental factors like weather, conditions, and familiarity of terrain, or physical conditions like fatigue, hydration, exercise, mental fitness, making sure equipment is in good condition, and wearing the proper protective equipment. Lift safety also poses the need for evaluation of risks. We strongly recommend that anyone who is unfamiliar with riding a chairlift, takes a moment to observe people getting on and off, as well as visualizes the steps they will take for loading and unloading the chairlift. Smugglers’ offers a practice chair for guests to practice sitting and raising/lowering the safety bar, especially with kids.
What tips would you have for first time skiers and riders on mountain safety?
Take a lesson! Resorts have professional staff on hand to help you learn to ski and ride, or progress to the next level. Sure, you likely have a friend who wants to teach you, but there’s a good chance they lack the credentials that a professional coach holds, like certifications, scores of hours of training, and teaching backgrounds. This goes for adults and kids. Snow Sport University at Smugglers’ Notch holds value in teaching people to love the mountain culture just as much as the actual sports of skiing and snowboarding. They have developed methodologies that have been winning awards for decades. Wherever you visit, there’s also likely a beginner program available, so be sure to ask the right questions. Smuggs offers beginners a lift/lesson/rental package at a great rate, which even comes at a significant discount to Vermont locals at $69/day!
How has COVID changed mountain safety protocols?
Skiing and snowboarding seem like perfect activities in an era where precaution is a top priority. While the element of sliding downhill in the open fresh air certainly does fit that bill, it wouldn’t be so without very specific measures in place to reduce the possible risk of exposure. Smugglers’ has been working diligently since mid-March of 2020 to devise a plan that allows our guests to feel comfortable doing what they love. This plan involves extensive communication about safe practices, re-formatted lift corrals to accommodate social distancing, extra staffing when needed to remind guests about compliance (in a friendly way, as we all forget and fall into old habits sometimes), mandatory mask-wearing at all times except when riding up on the chairlift or eating and drinking, contact tracing for anyone entering base lodges, deep cleaning protocols, outdoor heated restrooms, and much more. While there has been a tremendous amount of work put into these safety protocols, we feel it is imperative to keep our guests and our season safe.
What are some tips you have for parents with young skiers on ski & snowboard safety?
First, if kids are unfamiliar with skiing or snowboarding, we strongly believe the best approach is to introduce them to the sports before you arrive to the mountain. This can be as simple as watching a couple of videos of kids on skis and snowboards, talking about what to expect, or if possible, trying on equipment and even sliding around on the living room carpet a bit. The advantage here is that you establish a relationship between the child and their equipment ahead of time, giving you a leg up once you arrive to the mountain where there’s typically a lot going on. The next important tip is to sign them up for lessons! Not only are you investing in your child’s safety, but you’re letting a trained professional do the “dirty work.” Children learn best from a teacher, especially when learning something for the first time. Additionally, ski instructors not only teach kids how to ski, but they help to foster a lasting relationship with the sport and the culture, in a positive environment!
For parents with kids who are moving around the mountain a bit, it’s all about communication. Have a plan for a meeting place should you get split up. A great way to say this to kids is to meet at the bottom of the last lift you rode. This is something that’s easy to do at a place like Smugglers’ Notch where the trails tend to flow to centralized locations, so be sure it works with the terrain at whatever mountain you’re visiting. “Chairlift chats” provide a wonderful opportunity to talk about safe practices. Just about every mountain in the United States has adopted the YRC- Your Responsibility Code. This is a comprehensive list of safe practices on the mountain, from giving the skier/rider downhill the right of way, to looking uphill when merging with another trail. Chairlift time is a great opportunity to point out good and not-so-good behavior. Have your child point out good behavior to you from your airborne vantage point!
What are some aspects of mountain safety that people might not know or think about?
Environmental factors play a large role in staying safe on the mountain. Taking a look at the weather, specific to the mountain, is a great starting point. Often times, weather down in town at lower elevations can differ dramatically from the weather up on the mountain. Wind and colder temps may seem daunting, but with the right layers, they can go unnoticed. The keyword here is LAYERS. Dressing with multiple layers allows you the flexibility to add or remove a layer if the temps change or once you get warmed up on the hill. A thick, fleece neck gaiter is great, but perhaps a thinner one will be better once the sun really gets shining. It’s best to pack them both.
Safe stopping places on the hill are so important! It’s hard to go from top to bottom on a good mountain without stopping for a break here or there, and that’s totally acceptable. When stopping, however, it’s imperative that you do so in a safe place. When riding the lift, turning your mind onto spotting safe stopping places is a great way to build safe habits. A good rule of thumb is to take the high ground. Visibility is key, especially to those uphill from you. Once you spot a good, safe spot, have the kids stop with the very end of their equipment touching the edge of the trail. That will give them a visual queue that keeps them on the side of the trail, out of the way of others.