DENVER (CBS) – A Colorado bill aimed at making data from ski resorts more available failed to gain traction this legislative session, but will likely be back next time around. The Ski Area Safety Plans and Accident Reporting Bill, or SB21-184, failed to pass its first committee hearing.
Sponsored by Democrats Sen. Tammy Story, of Conifer, and Sen. Jessie Danielson, of Wheat Ridge, SB21-184 would have required ski area operators to “adopt and disclose safety plans, disclose seasonal ski accident statistics and maintain an accident data database.”
Danielson argued that an industry which prioritizes safety should have an interest in the measure but said prior to the hearing, none of the resorts across Colorado would discuss the matter.
“It is a bold and powerful industry that is opposed to this effort and it’s a nationwide thing. There’s no other ski resort in the country that has put their safety data out to make it publicly available, and there has been strong pushback over the decades against doing this,” said Story.
One of the first to speak in opposition during a hearing last week was a 35-year veteran of Vail Resorts, now president of the Mountain Division.
“My focus for every resort is to create experiences of a lifetime for every guest and employees, with a safety-first mindset. Based on my experience, and on behalf of Vail Resorts, I oppose the bill,” said Pat Campbell.
“I’ll focus my remarks on the bill’s suggested requirement, that ski areas publish safety plans. I appreciate the consideration of skier safety but the proposed publishing of a safety plan, as I read it, is not workable. I don’t see it having the intended impact, but rather creating an unnecessary burden, distraction, and confusion. First, the bill assumes that guests will ask for and can use this information,” Campbell continued.
“In my experience, I have not heard guests ask about specific safety plans as a basis for making their decision on where to ski versus other consideration like location, terrain or resort amenities. Guests are however interested in skier safety education and on slope presence at our mountains. That’s something we focus on through ski patrol, mountain safety staff, employee training and guest education. Second, nothing in my experience suggests that a safety plan will provide useful, actionable information.”
Stan Gale, a retired ski patroller with more than 50 years of experience, disagreed.
“For me this is not about politics. This is about what is best for the new future of skiing and skiers and snowboarders and bikers on the slopes… and telemark skiers. We’re all in this together, you know? And safety is a cooperative effort between the ski area operator and the person on the slopes,” said Gale.
Evan Stanford, communications and outreach director for American Whitewater, a nonprofit river stewardship national organization, testified in favor of the bill Thursday arguing accident data collection has helped the whitewater industry make improvements.
“One of our main contributions to the safety of the sport of whitewater paddling and whitewater recreation across the country but also specifically in Colorado has been maintaining an active database and that database is essentially user driven but government agencies, news organizations, commercial outfitters and then also private and public paddlers submit accidents to the database. The database has existed for about 30 years it. We started collecting accidents about 40 years ago, so we have good information. The analysis of that database through time has created a ton of growth in terms of safety and knowledge of the safe way to participate in whitewater sports,” he said.
Sponsors expressed disappointment in the vote but didn’t hesitate to say they would be bringing it back next legislative session.
“We heard witness after witness after witness speak to you, from their hearts, about personal injury and death on the slopes, and each one of them said that they cherish their time here in Colorado and love the slopes, but that there’s a lot more that they could have done with this kind of information.”
“We heard from consumer advocates who said this would benefit the public, we heard from doctors who said this would benefit the public we heard from folks who said they already do this in other industries and it’s helped improve safety,” Sen. Danielson continued. “And as a direct result of the data collection they made changes that helped save lives.”
“Then we heard from the ski industry and they said that the safety plan won’t help consumers. They said that the data will be taken out of context… the lawyers said that there may be privacy issues, but when we approached the ski areas to work out any of the details in the bill, they refused to work with us. So while Vail came here today to say our door is always open to discuss safety, when we tried to engage the industry, not just Vail but the Ski Country representatives as well, we were told that they didn’t intend to tell us why they couldn’t make this bill work, let alone what they would like to change if they had the chance.”
Vail Resorts did not respond to CBS4 directly for comment, however Colorado Ski Country USA issued a statement in advance of the hearing.
“Colorado Ski Country USA and its member ski areas prioritize guest safety every day without exception,” the statement said. “They also continuously educate guests about ‘Your Responsibility Code’ and the inherent risks of the sport. Senate Bill 21-184’s proponents, including Dr. Dan Gregorie from California, have a history of sensationalizing isolated data points and incidents in order to pursue a policy agenda that will scare prospective skiers and do nothing to improve skier safety. We’ve seen this effort fail in other states and we expect it to fail here. We look forward to talking with policymakers at the Colorado Capitol about the facts.”
Following the hearing, Sen. Story issued the following comment:
“I am extremely disappointed that this commonsense legislation was defeated in committee today. The testimony we heard in support this afternoon was powerful, compelling, and convincing and frankly the arguments against were strained and misleading. It is abundantly clear that we need increased transparency in the ski industry and that consumers deserve access to the basic information that this bill would have provided. I look forward to continuing these efforts during the next legislative session.”
To listen to the full hearing, click here.