Ratings, signage to be consistent across North America
The popularity of terrain park skiing and snowboarding has helped to revive the winter resort industry by adding new challenges and new thrills to the slopes.
The parks also increase the potential for injuries, creating new concerns for parents, school boards, and resort operators.
While the parks are here to stay, resorts are now working to create a universal standard for rating terrain park difficulty and developing common signage to better educate the public on risks .
The issue came to a head in July when a student from Richmond sued Whistler-Blackcomb and the Richmond School Board for $2.9 million in damages, after an accident in Blackcomb park in January of 2000 left him a quadriplegic. The judge ruled that Whistler-Blackcomb was 70 per cent responsible, while the school board was 15 per cent responsible. The man was also found to be 15 per cent to blame for the accident.
The reverberations from the court ruling are still being felt, with the Richmond school board recently announcing plans to cancel school trips to the mountains.
For the ski area operators, the school trips are an important way to introduce new generations to skiing and snowboarding, something that is vital to the long-term survival of the industry.
Creating a set of terrain park difficulty standards that are easy to understand, and can be universally applied at all ski resorts, will increase safety, promote responsible skiing and riding, and go a long way towards convincing school boards and insurance companies that resorts are doing all they can to make the parks safe.
The Canada West Ski Areas Association, which includes representatives from ski resorts in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, has been working on creating those standards alongside Whistler-Blackcomb.
Although there is general agreement on those standards by CWSAA members, the standards wont be in place until the winter of 2004-2005.
"Its a project in the works that will not be ready for this year," said Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb, and chair of the B.C. and Yukon zones for the CWSAA.
"Weve done the preliminary work on this, and have talked with resorts in Alberta and B.C. through Canada West. We now want to see how it affects other resorts in North America, and especially in the U.S. Wed like to act in concert with the entire industry on both sides of the border."
According to Forseth, the decision to create the standards was not entirely driven by the Richmond students lawsuit.
"That focussed our thinking on the issue, but we have been making improvements and putting changes in place for a long time, subjecting ourselves to endless critiques to see if we can do things better. It s a natural evolution."
Examples of this include last years practise of making passes and helmets mandatory for the highest level park on Blackcomb, and fencing off the more difficult areas.
The North American initiative is limited to terrain park markings and signage, and does not include helmet regulations or the highest-level park concept.
"Really its just the communication of what the park is and what (skiers and riders) should expect going into it," said Forseth.
Whistler-Blackcomb currently uses a four-level system for grading park terrain, starting with green for the easiest and finishing with double black diamond for the most challenging. A signed waiver and special pass is required to enter the single black diamond and double black diamond park area.