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Letter: Serious injury on Whistler Mountain ‘could have been avoided’

'This letter has been brewing for a while.'
Whistler Mountain at dusk.

This letter has been brewing for a while. It is the result of six years of Vail Resorts ownership; the letter by Jim Pipe (“Will Someone with authority at Vail Resorts please stand up?” Pique, Feb. 9); the letter by Gordon Lake (“Whistler Blackcomb needs Canadian ownershipPique, Feb. 24); the letter by Patrick Smyth (Vail Resorts hate is getting boringPique, Feb. 24); a comment by a good friend that people complain about Vail but don’t do anything; and a significant incident I experienced on Whistler on Jan. 18 of this year.

I was skiing Whistler Mountain on that date. At approximately 11:30 a.m., just underneath the very top of the Emerald Chair, I came across a skier face down in the snow and in some distress. I made the traditional call, “Do you need some help?” and was shockingly greeted by a woman who screamed up at me, “My femur is broken! I’ve just broken my femur!” I’m a former Whistler volunteer ski patroller with a long-since lapsed industrial first-aid basic-course accreditation. What remained of my training kicked in. Over the next 60 minutes or so, I held her femur in traction while the doctor and six patrollers administered to her needs. She was transported down the mountain via helicopter. The patrollers and doctor performed flawlessly and gave this person the best on-mountain care I could imagine. Though it was a traumatic experience for me, it was nothing compared to the trauma she experienced.

I took pictures and video of the accident scene because it seemed unusual to me. It was right at the top of the Emerald Chair with an unmarked five- or six-foot drop with poor visibility. She skied right off the edge and injured her leg. The incident made me question what safety supervision was in place, as well as an apparent lack of safety ropes in such a busy beginner area. In my experience, this safety oversight would normally have been carried out by the now virtually non-existent, yellow-jacketed mountain safety volunteers. Keep in mind this injured skier was not a beginner but rather an 80-year-old veteran skier.

I have lived in WhistIer for almost 49 years and have been skiing for 62. I know what mountain safety should look like. I believe this serious injury could have been avoided, and would have been avoided, if it was not for the culture of cost-cutting and service reduction that seems to be the philosophy of the present ownership.

Back to the letters and comment by my friend. Lake’s letter calls for a much-needed change of ownership. I agree. Pipe’s letter encapsulated nicely the broad strokes of complaints and consistent lack of meaningful responses from Vail. If they do respond, it’s been my experience that they pay lip service only to their “Epic” customer experience, provide a few platitudes, and then act almost solely in the interest of the bottom line. Smyth’s letter pays homage to that bottom line. It’s a cynical and dismissive note that mocks skiers’ concerns. He states that, “the lack of this and the lack of that is kind of getting boring.” “Stop complaining . . . buy shares in Vail.” Well boring it may be to you and Vail, but Vail’s ownership has consequences. In this case, the consequence was a traumatic event that could have irreparably altered a life. To the comment my good friend made that everyone complains but no one does anything . . . this letter is the best I can do right now. Perhaps I can do more if asked to be a witness in court.

Paul O’Mara // Whistler

[Editor’s note: In response to the above letter, a representative for Whistler Blackcomb provided the following statement: “We take great pride in our Mountain Operations and Patrol team members and stand behind their exceptional work on our mountains. We also place the utmost value on safety, as it has always been—and remains—our top priority. We are committed to ensuring all Whistler Blackcomb employees have proper ongoing training and that appropriate safety measures are in place and taken seriously every day, by every single person across the whole of our resort team.”]