KEEP YOURSELF AND OTHERS SAFE: KNOW THE CODE
Before any intrepid winter lover hits the slopes, whether strapped into skis or strapped to a snowboard, it's crucial to memorize and understand the Skier's & Snowboarder's Responsibility Code.
These golden rules will keep you, resort employees, other guests, and inanimate objects safe and sound. Trust us, you gotta KNOW THE CODE.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) released the first Skier's Responsibility Code clear back in 1962. Even back then, there was a need for people engaged in winter recreation to adopt and understand a user code to prevent collisions and injury. The code has certainly evolved over the last sixty years and has been adapted to include skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, and all who use and enjoy the slopes.
NSAA updated the code recently in 2022 to encompass 10 points, up from 7. The majority of ski areas across the United States observe and enforce this code which is why ALL users on the slopes need to familiarize themselves with each point. Parents should review them with children and set a good example to instill good habits on the mountain. We'll break them all down and offer more insight below!
An interesting fact, Dr. Jasper Shealy, with over forty years of experience spent studying ski injuries, reports that men comprise the “overwhelming majority” of ski fatalities. He also reports that the bulk of fatal accidents occur on trails rated as blue squares. The majority of accidents tend to occur toward midday or late afternoon when skiers and riders are tired. There's good reason to cheekily utilize the slogan "Ski two more, skip the last," as many injuries happen on the last run when skiers turn their focus toward après and getting home and spend less energy paying attention to their surroundings and tired legs. For a deeper dive into why injuries occur more often in the afternoon and how to prevent them, listen to this quick mini-podcast episode from Travis Maak, MD from University of Utah Health.
THE SKIER'S & SNOWBOARDER'S RESPONSIBILITY CODE
1. Always stay in control. You must be able to stop or avoid people or objects.
While the above is a seemingly obvious guideline, another way to phrase it might go:
"Always ski or snowboard within your ability level."
Sure, going fast is fun but having the ability to immediately engage your edges and stop at any moment is a basic requirement for any skier or snowboarder heading out on the hill. This is to avoid objects, trees, other resort guests, that toddler that came screaming across your path directly out of left field, snowmaking equipment, and the unexpected snowmobile cruising uphill bearing a ski resort employee. Gravity is a heck of a force and if gravity is in control and you're not, accidents can result.
2. People ahead or downhill of you have the right-of-way. You must avoid them.
This point may not be the most intuitive but it is imperative for all skiers and snowboarders to adhere to this golden rule. People uphill have a better vantage point and the people below them are facing downhill without much awareness of what is going on behind them. Therefore, it is entirely your responsibility to respect and safeguard the well-being of the people downhill from you.
You must be aware that the people ahead of you are likely NOT aware of your presence, therefore it's polite and respectful to give folks a wide berth when passing or turning around them at a faster rate of speed. It's also impossible to predict where or when a downhiller may instantly change trajectory, this is especially true with younger children and beginners. As the uphill entity, it's 100% YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to avoid hurting someone below you. This is accomplished by yielding the right-of-way to the person further downhill.
EVEN IF YOU ARE MOVING AT A FASTER SPEED, THIS RULE HOLDS TRUE.
Especially if you are moving at a faster speed does this rule ring true, since the downhill user will have little to no awareness of your rapid approach and won't be able to do much about it.
Give every downhill user a wide berth and know that YOU are YIELDING to them.
3. Stop only where you are visible from above and do not restrict traffic.
Many new skiers or snowboarders may not necessarily be quite fluent in mountain flow in the beginning. Pay attention when trails narrow and be on the lookout for what we call 'blind rollovers'.
Blind rollovers occur when a steep hill with a convex shape near the top blocks the vision of riders uphill. The folks uphill cannot see beneath the pitch below and this is precisely the absolute worst place to stop, stand, or plop down to adjust your binding. A quick and easy way to avoid collisions and stopping in a bad spot: simply look uphill. If you cannot see the skiers uphill, they can't see you. If you need to rest, pull over, or fix equipment, do so away from choke points, narrow cat tracks, and especially areas where two trails merge.
If you should crash and you're not injured, you should try to make moves to get yourself out of the flow of traffic as soon as possible. This is to prevent further injury or collisions. If you need a moment and can't yet get up, grab your buddy or holler for help and ask someone to stand near you and alert uphill skiers to your presence. This person should stand near you, but not directly uphill from you to avoid further injury or collisions.
4. Look uphill and avoid others before starting downhill or entering a trail.
This one is easy and chances are similar behavior has been drilled into your head since childhood with the phrase "LOOK BOTH WAYS."
Just like crossing the street, you'll want to look uphill to give yourself an idea of who is coming down and to avoid cutting off someone traveling at a faster rate than you as you push off. You'll also need to swoop your eyes downhill to give your brain a chance to recognize obstacles both moving and stationary. Another way to think about this one: LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP.
5. You must prevent runaway equipment.
Once again, we realize that the only thing truly in control on the mountain is gravity. Your body is working with and against gravity to get you safely down the hill and the same principle applies to your equipment. Throughout my decades of skiing, I've watched runaway equipment decimate an unsuspecting guest who unfortunately lay directly in the path of merciless gravity. Imagine just making some turns, cruising along, only to have your feet swooped out from underneath you by a rogue ski rocketing down the hill with its metal edges. It's not pretty. For this reason, you are responsible for your gear.
If you should kick a ski loose and need to click back in, carefully select a place where you can perform this maneuver without sending the ski rocketing downhill. If you crash and lose equipment, try to gather it up as quickly as possible and reassemble yourself in a good spot, to the side of the run where you won't impede traffic flow.
6. Read and obey all signs, warnings, and hazard markings.
While some people may choose to casually ignore run closures back east or in less consequential terrain, the signs and rope lines at resorts in Utah can define the boundary between life and death or serious injury.
While our steep terrain and bountiful snow create world-class conditions, they're also precisely the combination of factors that lead to avalanches and terrain hazards like cliff bands and areas where hiking out is simply not an option. Ski patrollers are trained professionals in avalanche hazards who spend the entire winter watching the different layers in the snowpack. What may seem like a perfectly safe slope to you might harbor weak layers that will instantly collapse the moment the slope is weighted. Though it may be supremely tempting to hike beyond the boundary, duck ropes, or ignore trail closures, those decisions are made to keep you safe. Respect them and respect ski patrol. If caught ducking ropes or not following signs, many resorts will suspend or pull your pass.
If you need to be convinced why respecting patrollers who put their lives on the line daily to keep you safe is a worthwhile effort, click here.
7. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
Ditto. Same as above. Utah is blessed with prodigious amounts of snow. This produces avalanches. Closures and delayed terrain openings keep guests alive.
8. You must know how and be able to load, ride and unload lifts safely. If you need assistance, ask the lift attendant.
Ahhh the chairlift, the key to endless vert, good times, and great conversation. Make sure you understand the lift loading procedure before attempting a sky ride. There is no shame whatsoever in asking a lift attendant to slow the chair for you if you're nervous. It's better to ask for help than get it wrong and expose yourself to potential injury. The equation of heavy metal plus your feet strapped down to additional bits of wood and metal can quickly get complicated if something goes wrong.
If you're nervous, strategically choose a chairlift near a beginner area that will be moving slower where you can practice a few times. You can also request a slowdown at the top from the attendant at the bottom. The bottom attendant will gladly contact the top shack with your chair number so you can enjoy a slower dismount. Don't be embarrassed about asking for a slowdown, it's better to go slow than get tangled up or hurt. If you do get tangled up and require a chairlift halt, no sweat, you can ask for help from the attendant and try not to panic. It'll all be ok!
9. Do not use lifts or terrain when impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Après is great and all, but it literally translates from French to "AFTER." Save the party for AFTER skiing or snowboarding. Reaction times slow wayyyy down when under the influence. It is truly unfair to the employees and other guests at a resort if your decisions are impacting their safety.
Be smart and be respectful.
10. If you are involved in a collision or incident, share your contact information with each other and a ski area employee.
Step 1 should be to call ski patrol. Step 2 should be sharing info. To ascertain all is well, it's important to follow both steps. Additionally, the resort, ski patrol, and mountain ops teams can learn something from every accident. It's important for the resort to know about any crashes or collisions that involve injuries.
BONUS POINT: For Heaven's sake, turn your bluetooth speaker off.
BONUS POINT: Wear A Helmet!
Ok, this is also not an NSAA mandate but it's a life-saving recommendation from all of us here at Ski Utah. Helmet use is on the rise and your loved ones would appreciate it immensely if you chose safety and donned a lid.
HELMETS ARE COOL!
For detailed policies at every Utah resort, please visit their safety pages: