Child Ski and Snowboard Safety: Collision Prevention and the #RideAnotherDay Campaign, part 1
Collisions. A simple word that can be very hard to quantify when talking about ski and snowboarding safety, especially with kids. It’s a simple word that can describe a minor bump with another skier where it scares you more than hurts you. Yet that same simple word can describe catastrophic events that result in severe injuries and sometimes even death.
When ski safety advocates talk about preventing collisions, it’s easy to gloss over the full picture of what we really need to be preventing. There aren’t any hard numbers to compile the data of how often collisions happen and the ratio of minor to severe injuries occurring, because there’s not really anyone standing at the base of the ski resorts asking people if they experienced a collision after each run. Unless it was a serious enough accident to warrant calling ski patrol, most people just get up and continue down the mountain.
Yet talk to anyone who skis or snowboards and you’ll hear multiple stories of collisions and crazy close calls from every one of them. And that’s just adults.
Let’s talk about the kids. I have yet to meet a parent that skis with their child that hasn’t experienced multiple extremely close calls (meaning their child was spared a catastrophic collision by mere inches and sheer luck), skiers and boarders literally cutting between the 6 foot gap between them and their child as they skied behind them trying to prevent collisions, and every family has experienced at least one collision involving at least one of their children. Thankfully, most just result in minor injuries and bruises or in the very best incidents, a scared kid. But unfortunately many cause more serious injuries. Concussions, broken bones, knee injuries, and back and neck injuries to name a few. And in the most extreme, and thankfully rare yet not rare enough, incidents, death.
Our personal story is very similar to most families who take their young children to the slopes to teach them to ski and snowboard. Every trip was filled with close calls and at least one of our children being involved in a collision, no matter how wide we tried to make ourselves behind them or how close behind them we stayed. It got so stressful that we finally had to make a decision on whether we could continue skiing with the kids. We knew it was only a matter of time before one of these collisions ended in a severe injury or tragedy.
We’re not helicopter parents. Not even close. We ski, bike, hike, SUP, play hockey (5 out of the 8 of us), have a trampoline, skateboard, and generally encourage the kids to run, jump, climb and explore their world. But we do look at the risk and try to minimize the chances of unnecessary tragedy. Skiing was becoming an activity that was starting to have way too high of a risk to justify continuing.
After one extra stressful ski trip, we decided we either find a way to make the kids more visible to prevent the collisions or we have to stop skiing as a family until they’re bigger. So we brainstormed and thought up the idea that would eventually morph into the Kideaux Dragon Child Ski Visibility Pack. We took the concept of the safety vest and amplified it to create something that would be fun for a child to wear, but would make them so visible to others that someone would have to intentionally try to run into them for there to be a collision.
Yes, we know how it looks (we’ll write a post on the thoughts that go through your head the first time you use it...hint...it feels a bit embarrassing that very first time, especially if you don’t like drawing attention to yourself, ha). Our goal was to minimize the collisions by making our kids more visible. Maybe skiers and snowboarders would steer away a little bit sooner and prevent the collisions and close calls. However, it created a phenomenon that we didn’t even expect. Our kids were so visible, people saw them from half-way up the run and stayed completely to the other side of the run as they passed. They didn’t just avoid the collisions, they avoided being anywhere near the kids which made collisions incredibly unlikely. We went from season after season after season of collisions and close calls to 3 straight years of not a single incident.
Does that mean that collisions can’t happen? Of course not. We still have to teach our kids the Responsibility Code and how to ski and ride safely and be smart. But what we’ve learned is that kids especially are just hard to see, which makes them prime targets for collisions. They’re small, they move more erratically and unpredictably, and sometimes we just flat out don’t really notice them. So anything we can do to make them be SEEN by other skiers and snowboarders, will prevent a great many collisions.
The NSAA (National Ski Area Association) created a campaign several years ago called the #RideAnotherDay campaign. It was created with Kelli and Chauncy Johnson after the tragic death of their 5 year old daughter, Elise, when she was hit by a 23 year old snowboarder traveling at 50 mph, killing them both. The #RideAnotherDay campaign promotes actions that make collisions less likely, allowing us all to #RideAnotherDay.
The Johnson family’s story is one that any of us could live. While we can’t control other skiers and snowboarders, we can take steps to keep our kids safe while skiing. Preventing collisions by making them visible is one of the most important steps we can take.