Controversial Colorado Ski Safety Bill Fails to Become Law

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Although proponents expected a smooth ride to victory, the Ski Area Safety Plans and Reporting Bill failed to become law in Colorado, after facing extensive resistance from the state’s ski areas. What did this bill attempt to do, why did ski areas oppose it, and what does the future hold for ski safety legislation?

SB21-184 Explained

The Ski Area Safety Plans and Accident Reporting Bill (SB21-184) was intended to increase skier safety across all slopes within the state. It included three main provisions:

  • Mandatory safety plan disclosure from all ski area operators
  • Mandatory disclosure of all ski accident statistics
  • Creation of a ski accident database

Most of this legislation, such as the ski accident database, would have been the first of its kind nationally.

The Argument for SB21-184 Becoming Law

Sponsored by Senator Tammy Story (D-Conifer) and Senator Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), the bill attempted to organize and increase the transparency of accidents involving skiers, snowboarders, and telemark skiers across Colorado.

During committee hearings, Evan Stanford, director of American Whitewater, testified in favor of the bill. He explained how a similar accident-tracking database was implemented 30 years ago and has yielded tremendous benefits. By tracking annual statistics, officials can discover broad trends involving whitewater accidents, and the industry can then refine its safety measures as appropriate.

The ski database was intended to be similar to what the whitewater industry currently uses. Government agencies, news organizations, ski area operators, other private entities, and the public would have had the ability to submit data about a skiing accident.

What Opponents Say About SB21-184

As noted by the bill’s sponsors, many ski areas refused to participate, not only in the committee hearing but also in the bill creation process.

One of the most vocal opponents was Pat Campbell, president of Vail Resorts Mountain Division. He argued against the bill’s proposed mandatory publishing of a safety plan. He said publishing the safety plan creates unnecessary confusion for guests, and it would contain no actionable information.

Instead, he said ski areas focus on guest safety in different ways, such as the ski patrol, employee training, and guest education. He went on to explain how, when guests consider the overall safety of a ski area, they tend to look for skier safety education programs and the presence of staff across the mountain.

Colorado Ski Country USA also opposed the bill. They issued a statement emphasizing their commitment to the Your Responsibility Code, a national code of ethics designed to promote safe, responsible skiing (and snowboarding, et cetera). Additionally, they accused Dr. Dan Gregorie, a proponent of the bill, of using scare-mongering tactics.

The Future of Colorado Ski Safety Legislation

The bill’s sponsors vowed to move forward. They expressed their disappointment with the ski industry, which they say showed no interest in improving the bill at any stage of its development. They also said the industry’s stated reasons for opposing the bill were misleading and lacked substance.

Additionally, Story and Danielson touted the support of consumer advocates, doctors, and skiers. They pointed to the effectiveness of similar database systems in other industries, such as the whitewater industry.

“Regardless of the political ongoing issues within the state of Colorado, we believe that safety & caution should be everyones number one priority. If you happen to find yourself involved in an accident, one of the first things you should do is contact an attorney who knows the ins-and-outs of the law,” says Amy Gaiennie of The Gaiennie Law Office.  

While SB21-184 failed to move out of committee, new attempts to improve ski safety will likely be introduced in the next legislative session. What will these new bills contain? To what extent will the ski industry participate? Everyone throughout Colorado ski country will continue to watch for new developments.

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