EAGLE, Colo. – Two out-of-state women, both seriously injured in separate ski accidents, are joining forces to try to make Colorado’s ski slopes safer.
The victims, 78-year old Katherine Jeter of Spartanburg, South Carolina and Patrish Koenig, 65, of Eugene, Oregon, met at the Castle Peak Rehabilitation Center in Eagle and exchanged stories.
Jeter was skiing at Copper Mountain with five other women on March 8. They were the midst of an advanced ski class when an out-of-control snowboarder slammed in to her from behind.
“I cartwheeled down the slope and broke the tibia and fibula in both legs,” she said, “I also broke my left ankle.”
X-rays show where Jeter’s doctors used rods and screws to piece her broken bones back together.
Koenig was skiing with family members at Vail on Feb. 12 when she was knocked out cold by a hit-and-run skier.
She suffered a concussion, broken arm, pelvic fractures, rib fractures and swollen face.
Koenig is now walking on her own, but still faces two more surgeries.
Jeter was told to stay off her feet while her broken ankle and legs heal. She gets around on a wheelchair.
It’s not easy for the very active 78 year old.
“On my 70th birthday, I rode a bike 70 miles and raised $70,000 for charity,” she said. “For my 72nd birthday, I cycled across country with 15 other women, from San Diego to St. Augustine. And for my 75th birthday, I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
Now, Jeter can’t help but wonder whether she’ll be able to do any of that again.
Ski Safety Summit
While commiserating with each other at Castle Peak, both Jeter and Koenig decided to use their experiences to draw attention to the need for more safety on the slopes.
Jeter said she wants ski resorts, ski patrols, instructors and the entire snow industry to have a frank conversation about the issue.
“Do we begin to approach it with the requirement to watch a safety video before you buy a ticket, or should you be required to have insurance, like you do when you drive a car,” she said.
“We need to make the (ski areas) aware there is a problem and ask what can we do to help solve it,” Koenig said.
She also suggested that a safety tutorial be posted online.
Koenig said she’d like to see cameras posted along some of the runs, to make it easier to see who is skiing out of control.
Skiing is a passion
Jeter said when she began skiing 48 years ago, it was an “art form.”
“We would make beautiful turns down the mountain,” she said. “Now, it has disintegrated to the point that it’s a speed sport.”
Koenig said that in addition to speed, more skiers and boarders are moving through trees or launching off snow covered rocks without knowing whether someone is on the other side.
“I don’t want to point fingers at them and blame the ski resorts,” Jeter said, “but something enormous must happen now.”
To help get the conversation started, Jeter wrote the following letter and is sending it to local newspapers.
A Story to Tell: A Campaign to Launch
Skiing has become an exceedingly dangerous sport with life threatening, life altering consequences. This is a new and harsh reality. Only the most naive ticket holders dismiss the serious risk associated with carving some beautiful turns on glistening, white snow on a stunning bluebird day. On the morning of March 8, 2017, I was in a class of advanced female skiers. We were making our warmup run on a groomed blue slope at Copper Mountain. Six of us were skiing in a line on the left side of the run making lovely medium radius turns. We were followed by our instructor garbed in bright red. All evident to others. All predictable in their skiing style. All in control. A male snowboarder crashed into me from behind and I felt the searing pain of every break in every bone as I tumbled down the hill. It was pain more severe than childbirth and more excruciating than any I had ever experienced. The result of the man's recklessness is that I required nearly four hours of surgery to repair two broken legs and a shattered ankle. I have rods and screws in both legs to hold the reconstruction together. I will be non-weight-bearing, confined to a wheelchair, for at least 12 weeks. I was an intentionally and enviably fit 78-year-old woman, who had cycled cross country and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro within the six years before that catastrophic crash. The ability for me, at this stage in life, to achieve 100% return of function in my limbs is hopeful but not certain. The ability for me to continue to pursue my skiing passion is dubious. The ability for my husband and me to resume the same exuberant and active life we enjoyed before these devastating injuries is questionable. We will have outrageous expenses, not covered by insurance, that will impose unwelcome hardships and restrictions on our budget and lifestyle.
Two doors down from my room at Castle Peak Rehab Hospital in Eagle CO is another enthusiastic female skier who was gravely wounded by a hit-and-run skier on Vail Mountain. She sustained a concussion, a pelvic fracture, serious injuries to both shoulders and a possible torn meniscus. She had already been a patient in this facility for five weeks when I arrived. She anticipates weeks' more hospitalization. The press her accident received (Vail Daily, March 7, 2017 pps 2, 11) generated two Letters to the Editor in the Vail Daily (Joe McHugh, 3/20/17 and Linda Huber, 3/21/17)
I do not believe it is hyperbole to state that the lack of universal safety precautions and standards, the lack of industry-wide policies and procedures to document accidents, and the failure of the snowsports' industries to take immediate action to remediate the increasing dangers on our nation's ski slopes has become a crisis. Resort-wide policies that protect snow sport enthusiasts and punish felons who inflict injuries must be established and enforced. I volunteer to be the activist who launches the mission to study the problems and develop the solutions that will make snow sports inviting and safe for all ages and all abilities at all resorts. I call out to all who will join the push for new initiatives to make snowsports enticing and safe.
Colorado Ski Country response
Colorado Ski Country USA said it doesn’t keep an database of ski injuries for two main reasons.
“It’s hard to define what an injury is,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager. “There is a lot of gray. What if someone injured their toe while putting on ski boots. Is that an injury?”
Linsmayer said the other reason is because there is no way to insure an accurate count.
“The onus is on the skier to report their injury,” he said, “but not everyone does.”
Linsmayer said January is Ski Safety Month and that Colorado Ski Areas have multiple events to draw attention to skier safety.
“Some focus on helmet safety,” he said. “Some focus on ski safety awareness and others on avalanche awareness and skiing out of bounds."
“We tell skiers to ski within their own ability and to follow the skier responsibility code.”
Here is a link to that code:
While Colorado Ski Country doesn’t keep stats, the National Ski Area Association keeps some.
A recent study showed there were 45 “catastrophic injuries” at U.S. ski areas during the 2015 – 2016 season.
Catastrophic injuries were described as those causing paralysis, a broken neck, broken back or life-altering head injury.
As serious as their injuries are, Jeter and Koenig said they’re grateful to be on the mend.
They reiterated their belief that ski areas themselves need to be more involved in education and in the apprehension of visitors who are skiing out of control.
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