Ski Patrol Volunteers Stuck in Legal Limbo

A new Denver Post report highlights the legal limbo that well-informed ski patrollers find themselves in when participating in rescue operations beyond the boundaries of resorts where they serve the skiing and boarding public.
Backcountry Patrolling
While many resorts allow their volunteer and paid patrollers to participate in rescues outside area “boundaries”, some Colorado resorts are washing their hands of the liabilities resorts may otherwise bear – even notifying paid patrollers that they are “off the clock” when they participate in off-piste rescues, working as “volunteers”. Back country public safety officials at the local, regional and national levels are now scrambling to plug that risk gap so patrollers are able to do their dangerous work without bearing the universe of liability, life and health risks personally.

The National Ski Patrol and the National Ski Areas Association collectively represent the vast majority of patrollers and ski areas in the US. Those two organizations have a Joint Statement of Understanding (JSU) (recent version in this Kelly Canyon Ski Patrol Operations Manual) that places much of the liability and other risks for volunteers on the shoulders of patrollers.

The innovative agreements described in this Post article between back country public safety organizations and patroller groups, however, seem to offer some level of protection for the interests of patrollers injured, killed or sued on-duty during rescue operations.

We support the efforts of the NSP and ski patrol groups to negotiate with public safety officials and resort operators on behalf of the interests of patrollers. Agreements that primarily benefit the interests of organizations like the NSP, NSAA, National Forrest Service, resort operators and other groups should at a minimum transparently disclose to patrollers that they are personally bearing the risks of liability, injury and death. That would allow them to make a more informed decision about participating in rescue operations.

This level of transparency is essential to ensure that well-qualified ski patrollers are willing to make themselves available to ensure that skiers and boarders on and off piste make it home safely.