As the end of another ski season looms, the breadth and development of tech which supports the sport has, yet again, been impressive. The only issue - and one which becomes more apparent with every passing winter - is that the manufacturers are ahead of the game but have resorts, in terms of safety, gone a bit slushy?
Everyone returning from a week on the slopes will have a tail of being cut up, knocked down, witnessing an argument... the list goes on. The common factor to all these is that someone behaved in a fundamentally unsafe way but skiing and boarding, unlike say driving or sailing, is highly under-regulated and it is probably time the resort operators stepped up in line with the sport.
In Europe, there is a widely-held belief that the North American resorts do this better - after 10 or so trips to Colorado and the West Coast, I have seen nothing that suggests this to be true.
A major part of the issue is that both sports have enjoyed a massive rise in popularity as technology has enabled people to become competent skiers and riders much quicker. Probably the single biggest advance in skiing, were safety bindings. Having skis release on sudden, increased pressure meant far fewer leg injuries which resulted in higher volumes of people graduating the green slopes. Ski and board shapes have also influenced the market as different shapes, materials and sidecuts have made balance and turning far easier.
Levels of discomfort have also diminished with improvements coming across all aspects of kit - including heated gloves, lighter, stronger joint supports and a wide range of warmer, less stinky base and mid-layers.
The upshot of this is ever-higher levels of people finding it relatively easy to do a dangerous sport with a fair degree of competence and comfort fairly quickly. The issue is that both skiing and boarding, like many sports, have inherent safety protocols which are vital to learn and only time on the slope or in lessons enables people to understand these properly.
The self-taught skier and boarder is no longer a rare phenomenon but it really does mean that they are under-instructed. They may have mastered technique but that doesn't mean they know how to behave. An après-ski hangover or a good lunch in a mountain restaurant has the potential to add a gung-ho attitude to a foolhardy have-a-go-hero. At some point it will end in tears - and a lot of pain; ski and boarding accidents are rarely solved with a band-aid.
Clearly it would be very unfair to blame technological advances for the ignorance of practitioners but as more people rip it up, it would be good to have the sense that resorts were as embracing of technology as the manufacturers (other than the impressive array of apps and social media accounts that are out there).
It can be reasonably argued that the biggest - or at least the most evident - on piste advance is that of better chair lifts, which can hardly be described as ground-breaking. Certainly, these serve the masses effectively but in terms of visitor safety, from the mad teen to the nervous novice, everyone is pretty much left to go it alone. It is hard to imagine this degree of self-regulation being allowed in any other capacity and whilst the diehards are possibly tempted to leave Darwinism sort out the issue, perhaps the time has come for snow resorts to turn to tech too?Suggest a correction