Matthias Walcher, Pascal Haegeli and Sven Fuchs
Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2019.04.007
Publication year: 2019

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Abstract

Introduction

Guests and guides partaking in helicopter and snowcat skiing (collectively known as mechanized skiing) are exposed to numerous natural winter hazards that can result in injury or death, but detailed quantitative risk estimates are currently lacking. This lack represents a considerable barrier for evaluating existing risk management practices and implementing evidence-based improvements.

Methods

We collected historical incident and exposure information from mechanized skiing operations in Canada to perform a retrospective risk analysis. Our analysis dataset includes 713 incidents that resulted in injuries or fatalities among guests or guides during a total of 3,258,000 skier days from the 1970 to 2016 winter season.

Results

Overall risk of death from natural winter hazards in mechanized skiing was 18.6 fatalities per million skier days (1997–2016). Although the risk of death from avalanches decreased substantially over the entire study period, avalanches remain the largest contributor to the overall risk of death (77%), followed by tree wells and other non–avalanche-related snow immersions. The risk of death from avalanches in snowcat skiing is about half of that in helicopter skiing, but other snow immersion fatalities are more common. The risk of major injury to guests is primarily associated with other falls and collisions. The risk of major injury for guides is higher in snowcat skiing than in helicopter skiing.

Conclusion

We recommend the design of an industry-wide incident and near-miss reporting system to support evidence-based improvements of safety practices.