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School ski trips will continue for most of province



Howe Sound, Richmond school boards make statements

The Howe Sound School Board has given the go-ahead for all schools in the district to offer ski and boarding activities this winter.

There was some question about what school districts would do about offering the activity after the Richmond School Board decided to cancel all ski-related field trips until the B.C. Court of Appeal reviews a lower court’s decision that found the school board partly responsible for injuries a student suffered during a school trip to Whistler-Blackcomb.

"If there is any school district in the province that needs to make a clear statement about sport this is the one and we are very satisfied with our procedures and all the schools have been given the go-ahead," said interim Howe Sound school district superintendent Dallas Cristofoli.

The motion to allow ski and boarding field trips was passed at last week’s board meeting.

"It is a healthy activity for kids, and obviously it has to be properly supervised, but it is also a huge economic engine in this corridor and as a school district if we believe that the appropriate measures are in place then we must make that statement," said Cristofoli.

"Everybody’s awareness of the need for supervision is certainly heightened though."

No other school district has cancelled ski-related field trips so far.

In July the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the Richmond School Board was 15 per cent responsible for injuries Travis Murao suffered during an annual school trip to Blackcomb, but because the decision was made by a jury the court provided no explanation.

The January 2000 accident left Murao a quadriplegic. The court awarded him $2.9 million in total. The court also found Murao to be 15 per cent responsible and Blackcomb Mountain to be 70 per cent responsible. Whistler-Blackcomb settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations for Whistler-Blackcomb said he was disappointed by Richmond’s decision.

"I think it is unfortunate and I think it is unfortunate for the kids," he said adding that there have been discussions with the Richmond School Board about their decision.

He is thankful that no other school districts have followed suit. Whistler-Blackcomb has also met with representatives of the provincial parent advisory councils committee, the School Protection Branch and school trustees.

"We take the approach that, OK you’ve got a concern, let’s address it, let’s not run from it," said Forseth.

"We are working closely as an industry with the school districts that we deal with to understand their concerns, their needs, and how we can resolve them.

"We are taking a very proactive approach and to this point it has been well received and I think it is the way to do business."

All ski resorts want the practice of school field trips to continue. Not just because it introduces young people to a new sport which they might choose to continue to invest in for a lifetime, but also because it’s a healthy activity in a nation which sees many months of winter.

Forseth also believes a widespread cancellation by school boards of ski activities would send a very negative message to Olympic organizations about how we view winter sports.

"We are a province and a nation now that are going to be hosting the Winter Olympics," said Forseth.

"You would think it would be a supportive approach for the Olympics to have children out there enjoying and appreciating what the Olympics is all about."

Whistler-Blackcomb is also working with other ski resorts in Canada and the U.S. to standardize safety signs for ski trails and terrain parks. They should be in place next year.

In the meantime he advises those on the mountains to check out the terrain parks before they ride obstacles there and stick to trails which match their ability level.

"You should make sure your skills are up to the level of need for that feature," said Forseth.

"Think before you act."

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