Liberty Mountain Enhances Safety Efforts 17
Author thumbnail By James Chen, DCSki Columnist

After a number of years of limited growth in the ski industry, it is encouraging to see a slow but steady rise in the number of skier and boarder visits over the past several years. According to statistics from the National Ski Areas Association, skier/boarder visits have increased from about 50 million skier visits per season in the 1980’s and early 1990’s to between 56 million and 57 million skier visits today. The upside to the growing popularity of winter sports is, of course, a healthy return for ski areas that can continue to operate; and the constant innovations in equipment and apparel from which we all benefit (i.e., shaped skis, specialized boards, terrain parks!).

The downsides, however, include longer lines at ticket windows, rental counters and lift lines, as well as more crowded trails and an increasing risk of being run over by “hot-dogging” fellow winter-sports enthusiasts. How many readers have come close to be being slammed or actually have had the unpleasant experience of being run over? Because of the increased hazards, more areas are implementing measures to bring safety back to the slopes.

Reducing hazards does not simply make sense from a customer satisfaction standpoint. Actively controlling reckless skiing and boarding leads to fewer accidents, which leads to fewer injuries and lowers liability risk for ski areas. This, combined with greater customer satisfaction translates into healthier returns for ski areas. One of the greatest examples of areas that have consistently enforced safe skiing and boarding is Vail mountain resort in Colorado. Vail uses a combination of clever signs (“Space, Not Speed”), strategic “slow zones” and “yellow jacket” safety patrols, along with their ski patrol to enforce the message that customers are required to ski and ride in control at all times.

Closer to home, local areas are also getting involved with proactive safety. The most recent and perhaps notable example involves the area closest to the D.C. metro area, Liberty Mountain. Approximately three weeks ago, Liberty Mountain began an active campaign of safe skiing and riding designed to enhance safety on the slopes. The campaign includes new signs informing visitors that skiing and boarding are fun sports that still must be enjoyed responsibly. Signage on slopes is also increasing, indicating where trails merge and where slow skiing/riding areas are located.

The Strata and Eastwind Quad chairlifts on the backside of Liberty Mountain Resort. Photo provided by Jim Chen.
Some of the new signs appearing at Liberty Mountain Resort -; this at the base of Ultra (note the patroller standing by the “SLOW” sign). Photo provided by Jim Chen.

Along with the new signs, Liberty’s Ski Patrol and Mountain Safety are actively policing, looking out for reckless skiers and boarders and, where necessary, revoking lift tickets. Reckless skiers/boarders finding themselves in that situation may return to skiing/boarding, but only after completing a mandatory skier/boarder re-education class -; sort of a “traffic school” for those caught skiing or riding out of control. Of course, this all begs the question of how does Liberty Mountain define “reckless skiing/riding?” Based on a recent newsletter to customers, the Area defines such behavior as including some of the following:

Signs posted around the Area also give additional examples such as:

Simply put, Liberty Mountain’s campaign expects everyone to ski or ride in control and follow the Responsibility Code.

Liberty Mountain patrollers Joerg Meyer and Suzy Nicol monitoring the slopes. Photo provided by Jim Chen.

With the campaign three weeks old, the question then becomes is this all worth it? If you ask that of Liberty Mountain’s management, the answer is a resounding yes. Based on discussions with both Eric Flynn, Liberty Mountain’s General Manager and Lonny Whitcomb, Liberty Mountain’s Risk Manager, the effort has already paid off in the form of a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries requiring patroller treatment and positive customer feedback. Patrollers enforcing the reckless skiing/riding ban have also reported being approached by customers on the slopes who thank them for their efforts.

Based on these types of results, it is likely that Liberty Mountain will continue its campaign to encourage fun, but safe skiing and riding. Skiers and boarders seeking adrenaline-rushing thrills with big air, rails and other features will still have the terrain park and half pipe (now both 100% open), and faster skiing/riding will be available on the expert slopes, but Liberty Mountain’s emphasis on safer skiing/riding for everyone should mean more fun for those seeking a less hair-raising experience, especially on the beginner and intermediate runs!

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About James Chen

James "Jim" Chen" is a member of the National Ski Patrol and Assistant Patrol Director at Liberty Mountain ski area in Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania. Jim has been a member of the Liberty Patrol since the 1995-1996 season. Off the slopes, Jim is an attorney in Washington, D.C. where he counsels clients on transportation, innovation, safety and environmental areas.

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Reader Comments

February 19, 2007
Let's be honest, everybody likes to "bomb" a run sometimes. But not everyone should do it, and not every circumstance should allow it... And therein lies the problem.

Still I applaud Liberty at least for THINKING about it, and trying out some things...
Connie Lawn
February 19, 2007
Nice article Jim. As you know, I am impressed with the safety measures at Liberty. Good luck. Yours, Connie Lawn
John Sherwood
February 19, 2007
The new rules don't preclude an advanced skier from taking a "fast" run on a black trail. However, the run must not have much traffic, and you can't straight line it. I think this is quite sensible. The rules are designed to prevent the usual suspects, i.e. teenage boys, from skiing out of control in crowded conditions and on intermediate runs or even beginner runs. I applaude Liberty's decision to impliment these new rules. Other resorts should also step up to the plate.
February 19, 2007
I agree with the rule to a point. First I am all about safety! specially with having a 8 year daughter! I have been skiing for over 30 years from the east coast to the west coast. But as a advanced skiers I ski Liberty at least 3 times a week with my daughter we enjoy going to the back side to get away from the crowd on the front and ski at faster speeds with control. I have been there many times and seen the ski patrol on the back at the bottom way before the slow down sign blowing the whistle at people coming down the hill with great control! Today I saw them following people down the hill and marking their tickets as a warning. I have the whistle blown at me for no reason even my daughter has. Even on days where there is no crowd. The problem isn't the advanced skiers who know how to ski its the problem of non skiers and boarders skiing with no control and being on hills they don't belong on. They only have 3 very very short double blacks which are not relay double blacks at all and they dump out onto blue trails which take you to the bottom. If advanced skiers cant ski with controlled speed coming down a double black and down to the bottom without hear crap from the ski patrol they are going to stop going there. There are already no challenges at Liberty what so ever and without being able to ski at higher speeds on advanced trails then there is nothing there! They need to focus more on the non skiers and especially the snow boarders! I have seen more crashes from non boarders smashing into people then anything. They really need to control them they are very dangerous! You hardly ever see a advanced skier running into anyone! The ski patrol need to learn what skiing with control is and to lighten up and switch there focus to other areas! They are really making Liberty none enjoyable to ski!
February 20, 2007
Was at Liberty yesterday and even though it was crowded, the ski patrol did an excellent job keeping everyone in check.

There was a gal that had somehow managed to crash in the woodline under the dipsy quad lift on the right who was quite banged up. I saw the ski patrol respond quite quickly and did an excellent job of extricating her from the middle of nowhere. They brought her down via snowmobile and into a waiting ambulance for the ride to the medivac.
February 20, 2007
Matt - I appreciate your comments, but if the patrol marked your ticket (and your daughter's), there was a reason. You seem to rail against what you call "non-skiers" and "non-boarders" because they allegedly do not know what they are doing. Even assuming you are correct in this respect, those "non-skiers" and "non-boarders" are learning and improving skills on beginner and intermediate trails (where they should be) - cut them the slack you seem only willing to give your daughter (and yourself). If you want to ski faster and conditions warrant, you can do so on the more advanced terrain. John is absolutely correct when he notes in an earlier post that nothing in the guidelines established by Liberty prevents an advanced skier from skiing advance terrain in a "faster" manner provided crowds and conditions safetly allow this.

BTW - from discussions with fellow patrollers, you'll be interested to know that there are MORE skier-caused collisions and skiers marked for out-of-control sliding than boarder-caused collisions or boarder marked tickets at Liberty; despite the fact that boarders make up more than half of all paying customers. I think you need to get used to sharing the trails.
February 20, 2007

Thanks for the compliments. I'll make sure they get to the responding patrollers. The accident you saw just demonstrates how treacherous the off-trail area is because of the recent ice-storms that hit the DC area. The patrollers responding literally strapped on crampons and ice-climbing gear to perform the extrication (we have to be prepared for everything!). Everyone be safe out there!
February 20, 2007
It's a subjective balance, and therein lies the problem...

BUT something needs to be done, so give Liberty some credit for trying to find that balance.
February 20, 2007
The accident under Dipsy Quad was an employee who was hurt very badly trying to retrieve a snowboard for a customer who lost it while riding the lift. Thanks to the ice storm during last week the area was incredibly slick.
February 20, 2007
I saw the Liberty Ski Patrol attending to the injuried person along the Alpine Quad. I did not know how they got there but it's nice to know that help will be there no matter the conditions or terrain. Keep up the great job.
February 21, 2007
I for one have been very happy with the amt of coverage by Liberty's patrol within the recent weeks. I have also watched who & why they were "whistle blowing". They seem to be very fare & using good judgement who is either out of control, or is skiing/boarding dangerously close to other visitors.

As far as lack of challenge - Matt, you must not be looking in the right places. Correct - the double-blacks are very short. But - if you look, there are still very challenging places to ski & skills to work. I have been skiing at Ski Liberty mostly for 30 years. Most of those years, skiing 3 times per week. There isn't a day I ski there that I don't challenge myself.
February 21, 2007
As a member of the Mountain Safety Team at Ski Liberty, I guarantee that if you were whistled at or had your ticket marked, there was justification. It's not about you or your daughter or how well you are skiing. It is all about ALL of our guests and the slope conditions as a whole. The more crowded the slopes, the more concerned we will be by fast, reckless or out of control skiers. If you are observed skiing in a fashion that could adversely affect others, you will be approached, either as a warning, a marked ticket or removal all together. Imagine how a less confident skier feels when someone zooms past at a high rate of speed. The fast skier may have been in control, able to avoid the other skier, but that other skier is now on guard, maybe to the point of losing control themselves. This is where the problems start...and then grow to the collisions we all fear.

On the other hand, if you stick a jump (which never used to be tolerated) and it is done safely, away from other skiers and boarders, then good for you.

Is our system perfect? Probably not, but if you compare the number of positive comments, letters, etc. that we have received since the implementation of this program, versus the number of complaints prior, the system is definitely working. We appreciate your patronage over the years, and please feel free to approach us for more detailed information on the why's and how's of what we are trying to accomplish.
Jim (the author)
February 21, 2007
FYI, the immediate prior post was from an individual other than the author. I've only been skiing (and patrolling) at Liberty for the past 11 years - not 30 (although that is close to my total time on skis!).
February 21, 2007
I am also a member of the Ski Liberty Mountain Resort Safety Patrol and I read Matt's comments with great interest. I have been skiing for over 43 years and I have noted a consistent decrease in common courtesy and respect for others on the mountain during this period. Like Matt, I have skied all over the country and outside the US, and I have noted this drop in courtesy on a universal basis. Our new policy recognizes this problem and it is an attempt to recoup the courtesies of the old days while instilling a need for more control and courtesy to be present for everyones enjoyment and safety. Is our system perfect? Not yet. In is a first attempt at making our mountain safer,
Trust me Matt, patrol members do not want to mark tickets and police the hill, but this is part of what the job calls for. The numbers of positive comments and compliments we have gotten to date have far outweighed any complaints that we have received.
I know that there are a lot of incredible skiers who have skied all types of terrain all over the world and who enjoy out terrain at Liberty. Are we a large as Whistler? No. Do we have terrain that rivals Jackson Hole? No. Are we close to DC and Baltimore and offer a safe challenging experience? ABSOLUTELY!
If you ski, jump, bump and rock the mountain in control, while not being a danger to others or to yourself, I can promise you that we patrol members will let you do your thing. We do not want you to lose your skiing privileges. We want to see you and your daughter enjoy a sport that is a big part of our lives, in a safe and fun environment.
As far as your comments about boarders, I think you need to reassess your view of those who choose to ride rather than ski. Several years ago, it was quite common to see out of control boarders at every mountain in the world. The skills that snowboarders have today rival those of skiers. Furthermore, I agree with Jims comment about working on more skier-caused collisions than boarder-caused collisions. There is room for both skiers and riders on our mountain.
Matt, relax, take a snow day, stop by and say hi to us in the patrol room. We all love the fact that you are skiing with us and hope that you and your daughter continue to come to Liberty for many years to come. If you feel that you are not getting enough of a challenge, let us know and we might share where some secret stashes are hidden but then again we might not!
February 22, 2007
My son who is on the Liberty Mountain Race Team (and wears the uniform during practices) got a warning on Saturday morning for skiing recklessly. I think it was a good lesson for him/them so slow down in some areas (Upper Heavenly Bowl). I was disappointed that this was done around 9am when there was no one else but Ski Patrol, Race Team and Ski Instructors on the mountain. I think it was a good lesson on what will be expected of them the rest of the day but... In the future could you cut them a little slack in the morning hours so they can practice going fast and getting ready for their races (in the early morning hours only).
February 22, 2007
Nice article, Jimbo! Enjoy the weekend.
February 22, 2007
Thanks for the reply back. I agree with what you said about the lack of courtesy on the mountain. I have seen that all over as well. I grow up skiing at Liberty ever since I was about 6 so I have seen many changes there all in a good way. I wasn't saying any bad about the ski patrol I think they do a outstanding job! I have never had my ticket marked or pulled just a whistle blown(which I wasn't skiing fast and was carving back forth not in a straight line)I like to ski the early morning or night when there are no crowds so I do like to it the mountain hard at times. I love to challenge myself as much as possible. Just as you I ski all over the place. I do all the back country skiing out west, Jumping off the cliffs and stuff like that. There is nothing I wont ski. But anyway getting the whistle blown wasn't so much the issue I just saw a lot last week of the ski patrol all over the place and following people down the hill and pulling them over like the police with radar :) and marking their tickets. And through out the day riding the lifts up just heard many comments about it and not from teenage kids. Like I said in the start of my post I am all about safety just when I saw good skiers skiing with control getting warnings I thought I would add a comment about it on here. In no way was it meant in any disrespect.

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