Colorado has long been associated with its winter recreational activities. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), 33 catastrophic injuries and 44 skiing and snowboarding fatalities occurred in U.S. ski areas during the 2016-2017 season. Non-ski area/back-country catastrophic injuries and fatalities are not included in the NSAA statistics, so it is safe to assume that many more Colorado winter outdoor recreational enthusiasts are injured every year. It is important to understand the level of liability and the duty of care needed to best protect your participants as well as the Member during a school sponsored activity.

 

Some Colorado School District Self Insurance Pool (CSDSIP) Members that have winter-based programs have encountered the challenges involved with these types of activities. Two incidents arising from such programs are listed below.

 

  • A student was involved in a school-based PE program. She fell while snowboarding and sustained a brain injury. CPR was performed on her and she was airlifted to a hospital where she spent time in ICU and slowly recovered from her injuries. Instruction and supervision were being provided by the ski resort at the time of the injury. No claim was filed against the Member.

 

  • A six-year old student was participating in a program with a ski resort where students were given PE credits for participation in the learn-to-ski program. The student was riding a chair lift with two other students when she fell and sustained lower leg injuries. The Member had three teachers present for this activity. According to the Member, the teachers were not providing instruction on ski techniques but were monitoring activity. The potential claim was closed after inactivity.

 

Risk Control Measures

 

Members should ensure that:

  • Written waivers/parental permission with consent to participate are returned to the school or district prior to participation. It is important for these waivers to be as specific to the activity as possible. Parental consent given to the Member to seek necessary medical treatment in the event of illness or injury should be considered.

  • Parental contact information, fitness and necessary medical information must be provided to the activity leader prior to participation. Contact information should be carried by the supervisors during each trip.

  • Emergency communication equipment such as cell phones and/or bus radios must be available for each trip.

  • Accommodations for students with disabilities should be made.

  • A fully stocked first aid kit should be available on each trip and at least one supervisor must be trained in first aid and CPR.

  • Weather reports should be considered for travel purposes before heading out on the road.

  • Supervisors must ensure that all students are properly prepared and equipped with safety gear prior to trip departure.

  • The Member must make sure that the chaperones/supervisors have met all Member requirements to be allowed to supervise students.

  • Chaperones/supervisors must understand their role in supervision. They are required to actively supervise. Students should not be left on their own. This responsibility should never be abdicated to the ski resort personnel.

  • Members should use supervisors, chaperones and instructors that are trained in the activity that they are supervising.

  • Chaperones/supervisors must understand what to do in an emergency.

 

Parents should be given information on the activities prior to participation. This should include but not be limited to:

  • Dates and locations of all activities.

  • Lists of equipment and clothing necessary and recommended for their child to participate.

  • Nature and difficulty of each activity that will be undertaken.

  • Transportation arrangements and all travel policies.

  • Times of departure and returns.

  • Supervision that will be provided for each trip.

  • Contact information for school or district supervisors as well as location contact information.

  • Costs associated with all trips and activities.

Instructions to student participants should include but not be limited to:

  • The student’s role in an emergency.

  • The importance of safety gear. Helmets should be considered a “must”.

  • The importance of binding and boots that are adjusted and fit properly.

  • Cold weather skin protection as well as sun protection, and information on dangers/signs of hypothermia.

  • Safety responsibilities for skiing and/or snowboarding, including the Colorado Skier Code of Conduct.

  • The buddy system. Require students to choose a skiing buddy at a similar skill level. Instruct buddies to stay together on the slope and to report a lost partner or injury to a trip leader.

  • The importance of staying in bounds.

  • The importance of physical fitness and conditioning prior to participation.

  • Requirements for all beginners to have instructions or take lessons by qualified instructors.

  • The importance of staying in areas that are appropriate for the individual’s skill and ability levels.

Insurance coverage

 

CSDSIP considers cross country skiing, snow skiing, snowboarding, tubing and tobogganing to be “High Risk Activities”. High Risk Activities are any sport in which a mishap could result in a serious injury or death.

 

CSDSIP’s School Entity Liability (SEL) Coverage is broad and protects the Members, employees, Board of Education and volunteers while acting within the course and scope of school or district sponsored activities. Insurance coverage will be subject to the policy terms and conditions. Although insurance may apply, a High Risk Activity may present an unwarranted exposure or injury for participants as well as liability exposure for your school or district. The following guideline can assist your school or district as to whether an activity is considered insurable. All points must be answered with a “yes”. Ask yourselves:

 

  • Is the activity approved by the Board of Education?

Although it doesn’t always necessarily have to be the Board of Education who authorizes the activity, it should be someone in the school or district that has authority to grant permission for the event/activity.

  • Will Member individuals be acting within the course and scope of their employment?

  • Does the Member ensure and maintain all school or district policies throughout the activity?

  • Is the Member directing and supervising the activity from beginning to end?

  • Are the proceeds (if collected) from the activity going directly to the Member?

  • Does the activity benefit the student population?

 

Remember, a sound risk management approach to controlling high risk winter recreational activities is warranted in order to minimize the likelihood of injury to student participants and to also minimize the chance of a liability claim or lawsuit being filed against the Member sponsoring them.

For more information visit the National Ski Area Associations web site

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