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Saturday, 22 December, 2001, 17:22 GMT
Ski resorts get tough on safety
Skier in Swiss Alps
The number of collisions on ski slopes has risen
By the BBC's James Cove

Some of the major Alpine skiing resorts are planning strict measures to prevent people skiing too fast on the slopes this winter.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of collisions as people go faster and faster; last year in France there was a 17% increase in accidents.

Earlier this week, in two separate incidents in the Austrian resort of St Anton, a 10 year-old British girl and a 59 year-old Belgian man died when they crashed into an avalanche barrier.

Piste patrollers

As tens of thousands of people head to the slopes for the Christmas break, they are being warned to ski safely - especially as the poor snow cover in large parts of the Alps is making the pistes more crowded than normal.

They look out for dangerous skiers and reprimand them if they cut others up or crash into them

Jane Jacquemod
Val D'Isere in France has introduced so-called Piste Angels, who stop people who are skiing out of control.

Jane Jacquemod, from the tourist office said that they had six patrollers in the resort to ensure skiers' safety.

"They look out for dangerous skiers and reprimand them if they cut others up or crash into them," she said.

Barrier control

In the neighbouring resort of Tignes, extra barriers are being put in at busy points on the mountain to slow people down.

Ski lift
Ski slopes have become overcrowded in many resorts
The problem is particularly acute at the end of the day as large numbers of skiers and boarders are funnelled on to the runs back to the village.

The Head of the Piste Patrol in Tignes, Gerard Richerand, says the barriers will benefit everyone.

"The safety netting across the piste will stop people going fast," he said.

"They will have to slow down to get through them and we hope it will reduce accidents on the slopes".

Heavy fines

Tignes is at the forefront of this new approach. Earlier this month, a 19 year-old British man was fined $1,100 and received a six month suspended jail term from a court in Albertville after crashing into a woman on the slopes of Tignes.

Irresponsible skiers may now face criminal charges
She suffered a damaged spleen and several fractures.

One person who welcomes the new moves is Sue Walkley, who was hit by an out-of-control skier and knocked over.

"I was going slowly down the slopes when someone went over the back of my skis," she told BBC News Online.

"The next thing I knew I was lying on the snow with severe concussion," she said.

"I lost my short-term memory and was kept in hospital for two days. Anything that makes people ski slower is good."

Most of the major resorts in American have piste patrollers with the power to confiscate lift passes if people put others in danger.

We come to the mountains to get away from rules and regulations

Last year in Vail, Colorado, a man was jailed for crashing into another skier and killing him.

It was the first time a skier had been jailed for his actions on the slopes.

Some fear it is only a matter of time before someone dies in Europe as the new equipment enables people to ski fast before they have the necessary skills.

Mixed reaction

However, this week in the Swiss resort of Verbier the view was mixed on whether tighter controls were a good thing.

Some welcomed the move as a way of reducing accidents, but others said patrollers around would curtail people's freedom on the mountains.

"We come to the mountains to get away from rules and regulations", said one skier.

"So anything that changes that is terrible".

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