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DO WE NEED PISTE POLICE? - Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Sunday March 3, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

After the death of a British skier in a high-speed crash in France, is it time for the Alps to introduce piste police + stricter controls?

The man, who was in his late forties, was involved in a collision with another skier in Val Thorens in Les3Vallees.

He then slid and crashed into a signpost, which mountain rescuers say had the proper protection.

We reported it on Friday 1st March in our News In Brief section.

While the details of the accident and who or what was to blame are not clear, the tragedy highlights what is a growing problem in many alpine resorts.

Inappropriate speed by skiers and snowboarders not skilled enough to deal with it.

When that's combined with packed pistes at peak season, the risk of accidents goes up.

Busy pisteCrowds on the slopes
















Here was the scene in Mayrhofen in Austria this week - busy as can be.

Mayrhofen, the Tirol, AustriaMayrhofen, the Tirol, Austria














Mayrhofen, the Tirol, AustriaMayrhofen, the Tirol, Austria















"It was not so much people skiing at speed out of control that was the problem, although there were a few," said the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove, from the resort.

"It was more that the pistes were packed and most turns were made to avoid people, rather than where the best snow or terrain was. It was survival skiing."

Mayrhofen, the Tirol, AustriaMayrhofen, the Tirol, Austria














In the USA there are so-called speed police who patrol the slopes telling people to slow down at locations where particular caution is needed.

If they don't, they can get their lift passes taken away.

Should the busy alpine resorts do the same?

Authority on the slopes, Vail ResortsAuthority on the slopes, Vail Resorts
















'Yes', some snowsports fans and ski instructors are telling PlanetSKI.

Others are saying the big ski areas need to do more to restrict access to the slopes and keep crowds down.

One is even suggesting a licensing system for skiers.

Busy pisteCrowds on the slopes













The comments are on the PlanetSKI Facebook page.

Ewan Hill is a ski instructor in Courchevel.

Like Val Thorens, it is part of the massive Les3Vallees ski area.

He says a number of factors are making the slopes dangerous.

"For me the speed of the uplift, perfectly groomed pistes, the bulldozing of runs in the summer to remove most natural features that skiers traditionally had to slow down for, incredible arrogance and lack of respect from faster skiers towards learners - and of course the lack of piste control by the resorts - are all bigger contributors to the pistes being more dangerous than they need to be in my opinion."

Should there be piste police in the Alps?

"Hopefully it will happen," Ewan Hill says.

Warning sign in the USAWarning sign in Beaver Creek, USA
















In North America more is done, particularly with slow speed zones.

Sunshine Village, CanadaSunshine Village, Canada
















Another ski instructor David Cuthill says policing the slopes isn't necessary.

He goes much further.

"You don't need to have police. Just double lift pass prices, but give big discounts for people with a skiing licence," he says.

"You need to go on a 2 week ski course to get the licence. For blue runs. Another two weeks for red and so on.

"It's technically possible now."

"As well as that, it will create huge opportunities for ski instructors".

Some people may think needing a licence to ski is going somewhat too far and will have a hugely detrimental impact on the average holiday skier.

Will they have the time and the money to do 4-weeks of courses simply to ski a red run?

Or pay double the cost of a lift pass?

And then there is the question of how it will be policed.

Adrian Lamb, a leader with the Ski Club Of Great Britain, says the expansion of ski resorts such as Val Thorens is happening without the necessary changes to the ski area.

Val Thorens, FranceVal Thorens, France
















"Whilst the resort bed capacity has expanded in such purpose built resorts, and the lift capacity has increased, the number of runs or width of runs feeding into the resort has not correspondingly expanded in the last 40 years," he says.

"These accidents are just waiting to happen on ever crowded Alpine slopes."

"The other issue is the ability of the skiers. I found in the large intermediate resorts of France that many do not have the basic ability to stop."

The British former downhill racer, Konrad Bartelski, believes people who cause accidents should be prosecuted.

He says it is "really sickening how serious it is becoming and no-one is taking any responsibility for the increase in all these accidents."

Marcia Nash who spends her winters in Tignes in France says it now feels safer to ski off-piste than on, despite the avalanche risk.

Marcia NashMarcia Nash
















But it's not just the mega resorts where crowds are an issue.

"It's getting to the point where resorts will have to limit the amount of people on the slopes," says Lawrence Stallard.

"We're in La Clusaz and it's beyond a joke, the amount of people here."

There's been a huge reaction to this article on our Facebook page.

So far, the overwhelming majority of comments are in favour or some additional controls.

Here's a selection of our readers' views:

Reaction on Facebook Reaction on Facebook











Reaction on Facebook Reaction on Facebook














Reaction on Facebook Reaction on Facebook










Reaction on Facebook Reaction on Facebook

Reaction on Facebook Reaction on Facebook

Here at PlanetSKI we will be following this debate and monitoring what, if anything, the resorts decide to do.

"There is clearly a growing and serious problem here," said the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove.

"Some suggestions perhaps belong on social media rather than reality but resorts really do need to address the issue."

We have been following the debate over the years but now it seems to be intensifying.

A decade ago in 2009:

In 2015 we raised the question:

And in 2016:
In the meantime, if you want to ski somewhere less crowded, there are alternatives.

"I now ski in Sweden, too many people in the Alps," says Sarah Fox.

PlanetSKI has just been skiing on practically deserted slopes in neighbouring Norway during peak holiday season.

Hafjell, NorwayQuiet slopes in Hafjell, Norway

And our editor, James Cove, skied in several lesser known ski areas in Austria over the busy UK half-term holidays.

And for the record:

The 10 FIS rules for the conduct of skiers and snowboarders

Rule 1: Respect for others
A skier or snowboarder must behave in such a way that he does not endanger or prejudice others.

Rule 2: Control of speed and skiing or snowboarding
A skier or snowboarder must move in control. He must adapt his speed and manner of skiing or snowboarding to his personal ability and to the prevailing conditions of terrain, snow and weather as well as to the density of traffic.

Rule 3: Choice of route
A skier or snowboarder coming from behind must choose his route in such a way that he does not endanger skiers or snowboarders ahead.

Rule 4: Overtaking
A skier or snowboarder may overtake another skier or snowboarder above or below and to the right or to the left provided that he leaves enough space for the overtaken skier or
snowboarder to make any voluntary or involuntary movement.

Rule 5: Entering, starting and moving upwards
A skier or snowboarder entering a marked run, starting again after stopping or moving upwards on the slopes must look up and down the slopes that he can do so without endangering himself or others.

Rule 6: Stopping on the piste
Unless absolutely necessary, a skier or snowboarder must avoid stopping on the piste in narrow places or where visibility is restricted. After a fall in such a place, a skier or snowboarder must move clear of the piste as soon as possible.

Rule 7: Climbing and descending on foot
A skier or snowboarder either climbing or descending on foot must keep to the side of the piste.

Rule 8: Respect for signs and markings
A skier or snowboarder must respect all signs and markings.

Rule 9: Assistance
At accidents, every skier or snowboarder is duty bound to assist.

Rule 10: Identification
Every skier or snowboarder and witness, whether a responsible party or not, must exchange names and addresses following an accident.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

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