The door slammed shut behind me as I held an 80-pound antelope struggling in my arms. She had been running across the Sun Valley parking lot, slipped on some ice and slammed into the back bumper of my truck and was now bleeding all over my seven-dollar ski pants from a shoulder wound.
In 1952 the Sun Valley hospital was on the third floor of the lodge and I was riding up on the freight elevator because I thought I might be able to get a doctor or a nurse to sew up her shoulder and save her life. Instead, I was told, “We are not licensed to work on animals so take her down to Hailey to the vet who might take care of her.”
By the time I got back to my truck the antelope had lost so much blood that she died in my arms. This was my first personal experience with death at a ski resort.
I knew the hospital staff very well from the many nights I had spent there painting murals on the new casts of injured guests. I had figured it out so I would show up to paint the casts just before dinner. Many patients wouldn’t or couldn’t eat dinner, so I ate theirs for them while I painted the cartoons on their casts for a dollar or two.
Bear Trap bindings locked the boot to the ski and many broken legs were called “spiral” because the body revolved while the foot didn’t.
As equipment improved and safety bindings began to decrease the number of broken legs, high plastic boots came on the scene and injuries changed to boot-top fractures. Then as the boots got better the injuries moved up the leg to torn knee ligaments.
Today’s equipment has improved so skiers and snowboarders are moving down the hill faster and faster and instead of broken legs people are now dying.
The Aspen Times reported a new record in Colorado this winter with 17 snowboarder or skier deaths. They did it running into each other or hitting objects such as trees or rocks. There is no age category since the dead winter sports enthusiasts ranged in age from 11 to 67. Some of them wore crash helmets; others did not. Two other skiers died while being filmed by different camera crews, another died while skiing in an extreme skiing championship contest in Alaska.
In all of the years I produced ski movies none of my cameramen or I ever had a fatality but we did break several legs in three different countries.
I blame most of the deaths on the new equipment. Ski ability that once took two or three years to acquire can now be achieved in two or three weeks. Experience, however, only comes from years of standing on your skis and turning them right and left. Occasionally, during the winter, I know I’m skiing faster than I did when I raced in The National Championships and the Harriman Cup in Sun Valley in 1948.
Will the death toll rises again next winter?
Sure it will.
The numbers tell it all. With 26,000 people on the hill on any given Saturday at a Colorado ski resort, there is bound to be more collisions and more trees in the way of skiers and snowboarders. Any sport that can get your adrenaline pumping the way skiing does has to be a high-risk sport.
When I started filming skiers in 1949, anyone who could make 10 turns without falling down was an extreme skier. And there were no winters where 17 skiers died.
To help solve this problem I am marketing a new product for use on crowded slopes: Football shoulder pads with a rear view mirror attached to each shoulder so you can see when someone is going to hit you from behind.
If you don’t buy a set of my rear view mirrors I suggest you write a letter to your lawmakers and get them to expand the acreage of your ski area into some of the tens of millions of acres of government land that you can’t ski on because of the environmentalists.
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