Ski slopes seem to be getting more dangerous. The resorts don’t want to talk about it

A snowboarder flies above the lip on the Olympic-sized, 22-foot-tall half pipe at Mammoth Mountain on March 14, 2024.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Sunday, April 7. I’m investigative reporter Jack Dolan. Here’s what you need to know to start your weekend:

    Accidents are surging on the slopes

    If you’re a skier in California, chances are you’ve noticed the slopes at major resorts seem a bit more crowded than they used to be. You might even know someone who has been injured in a collision with another skier or snowboarder.

    To find out what’s going on, we asked some of the biggest and best-known ski areas in California for data on the number of skiers who have visited their resorts and the number of injuries they’ve sustained in recent years.

    What did they tell us? Absolutely nothing. Most didn’t even respond to the request.

    So we turned to the state health department, which, it turns out, keeps a vast database of visits to emergency rooms. They keep track of the reasons, too. The list includes car crashes, dog bites, falling out of bed — and extremely rare events such as hang-glider crashes and forced spacecraft landings. (Yes, “spacecraft.”)


    Ski injuries increased 50% over seven years.

    Buried in the millions of records on the health department’s website were more than 30,000 emergency room visits due to skiing and snowboarding injuries from 2016 through 2022. And those injuries went up at an alarming clip, a 50% increase over the seven years.

    This came as no surprise to retired ski patrollers, emergency medical technicians and hospital staff in mountain town emergency rooms. They placed the blame on a number of factors:

    • A growing recklessness on the slopes that seems to have emerged post-pandemic, behavior often exacerbated by people gobbling pot gummies and magic mushrooms or drinking copious amounts of alcohol before hitting the slopes.
    • Another factor: Skiers are so focused on taking selfies and shooting video for their social media feeds that they seem oblivious to what’s happening around them. And they’re willing to go way beyond their limits for the perfect shot. A classic mistake is riding the gondola to the 11,053-foot summit at Mammoth to get a selfie with the iconic signpost that marks the top, only to discover there is no easy way down.

    It’s not just the number of injuries that seems to be increasing, it’s also the severity.

    On a busy Friday shift in early March, Dr. Kyle Howell said he saw four patients rushed from the slopes to Mammoth Hospital’s ER with punctured lungs, two with air in their chest cavities around their hearts. He spent hours “fixing the face” of a kid who had smashed into a tree.

    Howell said he doesn’t normally have to juggle that many serious cases at once. But the injuries were familiar. At least two of the patients with punctured lungs had not fallen on their own. They had been hit from behind by skiers or snowboarders careening out of control. The impact had broken their ribs and burst their lungs.

    “Personally, that’s my biggest fear when I’m skiing,” said Howell, who has worked at the hospital more than 20 years.


    The rapid expansion of terrain parks has added to the risk.

    Years ago, when kids built little ramps at the side of a ski run, ski patrollers would demolish them with shovels and threaten to confiscate their lift tickets.

    These days, resorts build ramps themselves — massive ones — and giant halfpipes designed for the kind of soaring acrobatics you see in the Olympics. They’re a big draw and feature heavily in marketing materials. The hype tempts inexperienced people to go faster, bigger and higher, with predictable results.

    “It’s not uncommon for me to treat several patients on a given day who have suffered what amount to 40-foot falls when they overshoot the landing on big jumps,” Howell said. “These are just massive, massive falls, and they cause the kinds of injuries we only used to see in professional athletes.”

    Skiing and partying have always gone hand in hand. But in years past, it felt as though most of the debauchery was saved for apres ski.

    That seems to be changing. Nurses at Mammoth Hospital have a hack to figure out if they’re about to get busy: They check the webcams on to see if the outdoor bars are filling up while the lifts are still running.

    Hard partying might be fine on a fishing trip or a golf outing, said Caitlin Crunk, Mammoth Hospital’s chief nursing officer. But skiing is a sport that requires fine motor skills and reasonable inhibition. She can’t understand why anybody would want to ski while drunk.


    “You’re like a 30-mile-per-hour weapon out there, bombing down the hill with, essentially, swords on your feet,” Crunk said. “That’s just a recipe for disaster.”

    Read more: GoPros, gummies, reckless abandon: Why ski slopes are getting more dangerous

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    Have a great weekend, from the Essential California team

    Jack Dolan, investigative reporter
    Karim Doumar, head of newsletters
    Carlos Lozano, weekend editor

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