NSP Responds to Denver Post Report on Resort Accident Investigation Conflict of Interest

The NSP has endorsed a response to the series of articles published by Denver Post reporter Karen E. Crummy. An NSP member news release on its Web site directs patrollers to a response by Dan Whiting, Chief Accident Investigator at Wolf Creek Ski Area, and NSP Executive Director Tim White has released an official NSP response. Both are posted on the “Club Colorado” blog. The YouTube video that accompanied the Whiting response is included here. The NSP and Wolf Creek responses, however, appear to miss the “conflict of interest” point of the Post series.

The Denver Post report criticizes the practice of resort accident investigations becoming de facto legal findings, and the fact that Ski Patrol representatives and other mountain staff that are tasked with performing those investigations have an inherent conflict of interest. The conflict lies in the moral hazard presented by investigating your own actions, where the propensity to report negligence and gross negligence would be, statistically, very low.

If the National Ski Patrol members were independent of the mountain, that may address part of the concern noted in the article. But as Mr. Whiting notes in his video, ski patrollers may also be the mountain staff members putting up signs warning of hazards and closing trails; performing avalanche remediation work; and doing other general trail and equipment maintenance work. The NSP also maintains an in-force agreement with the NSAA, as noted in our prior coverage, ensuring that each of the NSP’s 25,000+ members acts exclusively upon the direction of mountain management, and specifically with regard to accident investigations.

There is no doubt that ski patrollers, given their skills, equipment and proximity to most accident scenes would be well suited to collect evidence, interview witnesses and perform accident investigations. But that conflict of interest places the objectivity of any evidence collected into question. That must be acknowledged before it can be addressed. The ending quote in the piece that the NSP is standing behind takes a swipe at the reporter, Ms. Crummy, personally:

“I certainly wouldn’t want to wait hours for someone who doesn’t necessarily know anything about skiing or mountains try to draw conclusions based on compromised evidence and incomplete information. To do that would just be crummy reporting.”

As for the NSP, its Executive Director, Tim White, sent a letter to the Editor of the Denver Post criticizing the series. That letter can be found here. White sees no conflict of interest, and expects an apology from the Denver Post. According to White:

“At worst, Ms. Crummy’s work is nothing short of fearmongering that does a disservice to the skiing public by offering little in the way of educating skiers and riders to have a safer ski experience. Perhaps if Ms. Crummy had spent more time talking to those who work on the slopes promoting safety, and less time talking to attorneys, she would have learned that safety is a primary concern of the industry, and has been for many decades. From our view, Karen Crummy and the Denver Post owe an apology to the dedicated men and women who boot up each day and proudly wear the white cross on the back of their parka in service to the skiing and snowboarding public.”