Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Killing Ski Fields

Last season we blogged about a number of snow and glacier fatalities in New Zealand, the majority of them involving falls from height, some of them on to hard or  rocky ground.  Read some of the reviews on Snow (scroll to bottom for excerpts)

If you're planning a ski or winter sports holiday to New Zealand this may be of interest to you.
This season is turning about to be the same as last year's with two separate fatalities in 24 hours, followed by a serious injury. Last year there were at least three deaths on Mount Hutt alone.

On Friday a Dutch skier, 38 Abraham Klaarenbeek, died on Mount Ruapheu, central North Island, when he collided with a pole and ladder beneath a life operator's shed on the Whakapapa skifield. It's not know if there was any netting or other protection around the building. An official Occupaional Health and Safety investigation is now underway.

Then a 29 year old Australian man from Sydney, Tim Stone, died whilst snowboarding at Mount Cheesman, near Christchurch in the South Island. Reports say he slid down an icy slope and into a stony riverbed.

There was a third accident. which fortunately didn't result in a fatality. Yesterday a 29 year old woman slipped and fell more than 20 metres at Ruapheu's Happy Valley. She was thought to have rib and spinal injuries and was airlifted to hospital.

One of the most tragic deaths last season was that of a high achieving student at Columbia College, American Rachel Swett, who died from complications following skiing accident on Mount Hutt in June.. Rachel slid 130 metres over rocks. Her parents have pushed for helmets to be made compulsory on New Zealand ski fields, something that was supported by the coroner.

Her death was followed by that of 60 year Arthur Richardson. He perished when his car left the Mount Hutt access road as he was travelling home after a days’ skiing. His body and the wreckage of his car were found by a search party sent out to look for him after he failed to return home.

However, the wearing of helmets still won't prevent other life threatening injuries. More needs to be done to improve safety on the ski slopes of New Zealand. most of which are no more than scree slopes with rocks just beneath the surface.

Mark Woods, and independent ski-area expert said more signage could have been placed on the route that Swett and her friends took, showing an intermediate ''blue'' run becoming an advanced ''black'' run.
''As a principle, it should not be possible to transfer from easier terrain to more difficult terrain. Blue runs should not lead to black runs.'' source
A while ago the Coroner urged that Coronet Peak enhance its avalanche hazard signage and fencing in the upper Greengates area. His recommendation followed the death of Queenstown snowboarder, Ryan Manu Campbell,  in an avalanche outside the ski area boundary a year previously.

In September 2009 Stan Siejka, a highly regarded neurologist from the Australian state of Tasmania died from his injuries after a fall at the Porters Ski area. His death came as a major blow to medical services in his home state where he almost singlehandedly provided its neurology services. He was a highly regarded professional and his loss was keenly felt by his colleagues, patients, family and friends.

A month earlier,  Jonathan Harvey Morgan, 38 a highly experienced heli-skiing guide with Alpine Guides was killed in an avalanche in Methven  on 14 August, fortunately his clients survived but a month before Australian tourist, Llynden Riethmuller, also died in an avalanche whilst skiing with the same company, in the same area.

Rosemary Berry, a semi retired Australian tourist, broke an arm and shoulder whilst skiing and sustained other injuries after she fell over a metal track left in the snow at the Cardrona Ski Resort. The company subsequently tried to appeal against its conviction of fines and costs totalling almost $60,000.

According to information released as part of the Dept of Labour’s investigation into adventure tourism the highest activity area for serious harm accident notifications in New Zealand  is ski fields, followed by luge, horse trekking and ATV tour accidents link.
For more about adventure sports, and consulate advice that some countries are giving their citizens about the high risks present in New Zealand read our Adventure Tourism and Safety stats and facts page.

Consular advice:
Australia (May 2011)
“Many tourists safely undertake adventure activities in New Zealand. However, many adventure tourism activities have inherent risks, and there have been a number of serious accidents involving Australians and other tourists, some resulting in deaths. Some operators have been found to be negligent. You should be aware that safety standards in New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry may differ between individual operators and may differ from those in Australia.
Travellers need to make their own careful judgements about the risks involved in individual or group activities and of the safety standards of individual operators. We strongly recommend travellers inquire with individual operators about the safety standards adhered to, whether these standards are applied across the industry and the risks involved in the activity. We recommend travellers hold travel insurance and complementary accident or income protection insurance and understand what circumstances and activities are not covered by the policies.”
Britain (May 2011)
There have been a number of tragic accidents involving British visitors; these also include extreme sporting accidents. If you intend to participate in extreme sports do check that the company is well established in the industry and that your insurance covers you. If you intend visiting remote areas, check with local tourist authorities for advice before setting out. Ensure that you register your details with a Visitor Information Centre or family or friends. Weather conditions can quickly become treacherous in some areas so keep yourself informed of regional weather forecasts.”
Also read: Dr Stan Siejka Inquest – Busy Helicopter “Delayed Treatment”

Snow field reviews from Snow

June 20, 2011
Graham from New Zealand (on Whakapapa)
"Wonderful varied natural terrain unfortunately spoiled by lack of decent facilities and ancient lifts that are slow and have massive queues on weekends. Non existent enforcement of rules by ski patrol make it dangerous as well."

September 14, 2009
MARTIN from United Kingdom (on Turoa)
"Turoa and Whakapapa have potential to be good ski fields. However, the poor weather is the biggest problem and the ancient lift system is a real pain. If you can only get up at weekends then you will have the crowds to deal with. The queues for the lifts are not too bad, if all lifts are running, but if the big 6 seater is not running then the lower and mid mountain become a huge bottleneck; you can wait 30 minutes for the lift. They need to invest some money on making the mid mountain lifts more efficient and make the beginners slopes better.
All in all, not a bad place to ski and board if you get good conditions. But don't book a holiday from Oz or anywhere else in the world to come here. Chances are the mountain at Turoa will be closed due to wind or poor visibility."

August 03, 2011
David Dewitt from Australia (on Mount Hutt)
"Well, we came, we saw (50cm snow) we conquered?
Mount Hutt seemed like it would be great with 2 metres of snow, but alas a lot more rocks this time. It has come a long way since I was there 20 years ago, but the old Hutt needs a lot of snow..."

August 30, 2010
Alex S from Afghanistan
"I have skied Mount Hutt 40+ days in all types of conditions...
Definitely worth a day or two, perhaps even a week or two if the snow is really on and you don't mind the 20-30min ascent. Keep in mind the assent can be slightly hair raising for the uninitiated, as unprotected 300ft + drops exist to one side (two cars have gone off the edge this season, resulting in one fatality)."

August 24, 2009
Angela, UK. Aug 2009 from United Kingdom
"I've only ever skied in Austria so the runs available at Mount Hutt seemed limited but ok for a day. The drive up in the ski bus was scary to say the least - that alone would put me off coming again. The pistes were well groomed but one that opened later in the day was very icy. I don't think it got any sun at all. I felt like a beginner again. There was a lively band playing which gave a slight apres-ski feel but arriving back in Methven, it was very quiet. Not exactly St Anton. Sorry about the negative comments but two people were killed off-piste while we were in NZ - if the area to ski was more extensive, maybe people wouldn't feel this need? What a blast to ski in August though."
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