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Last Updated:  Saturday, 8 March, 2003, 08:10 GMT
Safe skiing on the slopes

By James Cove
The BBC's correspondent in the Alps

The growing number of skiing accidents in popular resorts across the world has sparked a safety clampdown by operators to safeguard the sport and its participants.

Charges were dropped on Thursday against a 31-year-old British skier who collided with another skier on a resort in Denver Colorado.

The authorities found the accident, which resulted in the death of the other skier, American Robert Henrichs, was not caused by any criminal act.

Skiers in the Alps
The slopes are becoming ever more crowded

But the incident highlights how much skiing authorities are trying to ensure that people do not ski or snowboard out of control and possibly endanger others on the slopes.

The excellent snow conditions throughout the Alps and the Pyrenees this season have led to crowded slopes and a rise in collisions.

Trial scheme

In North America the resorts are much tougher on dangerous skiing with patrollers on the slopes and speed limits imposed in places.

Even so 13 people have died as a result of collisions this season in Colorado alone.

In Europe, Andorra, a principality between France and Spain, is leading the way in safety on the pistes as all its resorts now have patrollers who look out for dangerous skiers.

In most cases they warn them to slow down and stay in control, but in extreme cases they can confiscate people's lift passes and ban them from the slopes.

Last year four people died, this season there has only been one death.

"Our trial scheme is working very well", Marta Rotes, director of Ski Andorra, told BBC News Online.

"It has been accepted by skiers and boarders and so far it seems to have reduced injuries".

This season in Chamonix, France, an out of control skier went over the front of my skis and nearly knocked me over.

The next day someone skied into my six-year-old daughter and sent her tumbling.

He did not even stop to see if she was OK or to apologise.

'No firm rules'

Most resorts now advise children to wear helmets for protection.

"The rules are very simple," says Vanessa Fisher, from the Ski Club of Great Britain.

"Skiers and boarders have to give way to people beneath them on a slope and ski with care and attention for other snow users."

Daniel Luggen, Zermatt, Switzerland
Luggen: Resorts must be aware of potential for accidents

However, across the Alps there are no firm rules for enforcement.

Val D'Isere in France has some so-called "piste policemen" but they are few and far between.

The Swiss resort of Zermatt has given lift attendants and ski patrollers the authority to confiscate people's passes if they ski out of control.

While Cervinia in Italy has a number of policemen on the slopes to stop skiers going too fast and will arrest them if they think they are endangering safety.

"We do not want to curtail people's freedom on the mountains," says Daniel Luggen, the marketing manager of Zermatt in Switzerland.

"At the moment we do not have a big problem with collisions on the slopes, but it is certainly something all ski resorts must watch carefully."

Whatever the measures put in place by the resorts, there is a growing body of opinion that believes more must now be done to prevent injuries, and even deaths, on the slopes as a small minority ski too fast and out of control.

UK skier escapes charges
06 Mar 03 |  England
Skier rescued after texting mum
06 Jan 03 |  UK News
Ski resorts get tough on safety
22 Dec 01 |  Europe
Skier jailed over death collision
01 Feb 01 |  Americas

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