Freerider, patroller prep Whistler students on hill safety 

While many of the kids in Ms. Hennessey’s Grade 8 class at Whistler Secondary seem convinced that on-hill accidents are caused by hapless tourists, a couple of professionals were on hand this week to convince them otherwise.

Shawn Smiley Nesbitt, of the Whistler-Blackcomb Freeride Team, and Nadine Nesbitt, veteran ski patroller, (they share the same name but are not related) explained that most accidents have nothing to do with savvy local versus nit-wit tourist.

"There is definitely an idea from these local kids that tourists cause the problems," said Nadine, who has been patrolling for 12 years.

"I wouldn’t say that was true."

Rather, the statistics point to a certain risk-taking age group that makes up most of the accidents at Whistler-Blackcomb.

The students’ age category, up to 30 years old, accounts for 30 per cent of the riders at Whistler-Blackcomb.

At the same time they make up 60 per cent of the accidents on the hill.

"You’re part of an age group that likes to take risks," Nadine explained.

"It’s not a negative thing," she said.

"It’s a factual thing about your age group."

Last year someone in that age category died in a tree well in Whistler.

"There will be somebody in your age category that will die this year," she added.

Their presentation included Whistler-Blackcomb’s Respect video, which outlines the need to have respect for yourself, respect for others and respect for the mountain.

The students were quick to offer tips on how they could do this. Their answers included things like wearing helmets, recognizing the slow zones, following the Alpine Responsibility Code and taking buddies and all the necessary equipment when going into the backcountry.

The professionals also encouraged them to listen to that inner gut that reminds them when they’re tired, scared or unsure.

"You guys have to really pay attention to that little guy on your shoulder saying ‘uuuhhh, I wouldn’t do this if I was you,’" said Shawn.

Shawn has made a career as a professional skier. Featured on the covers of skiing magazines and in Matchstick ski movies, his job is considered extremely risky.

"I can’t get insurance," he told the class.

But he can make certain choices, which limits his risk.

He said while the ski videos may look risky, there are a lot of people on the sidelines making things as safe as possible for the skiers.

"It’s super calculated," he said.

Students asked him if he’s done Air Jordan on Whistler Mountain, which he has.

Nadine added that as a patroller she has to take people out of Air Jordan almost every year when they get too scared to do the second jump.

"Just don’t be idiots," said Smiley, urging them to think twice before they do something, and not get caught up in peer pressure to try something beyond their capabilities.

Most students in the class were on skis before they started school and they shared stories about some of their mishaps on the mountain during the past 10 years on skis.

The Respect video is targeted at the under-30 age group and Nadine and Shawn gave five presentations throughout the day to Grade 7 and 8 classes.

Nadine said it is important to target that age group because they fall into that risky category and they are still young enough that the video and the presentations may be able to affect their behaviour on the hill.

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