Safety initiatives often fly under the radar, less razzle-dazzle than guest relations or marketing campaigns, yet equally important to the industry in retention, conversion and overall growth. Ski areas across the nation compete in six categories and the risk and safety departments aim to be just as inventive and interactive as their retail branding counterparts. The safety awards highlight the creative, innovative, and tried-and-true methods that keep guests and employees safe on the mountain.
Thank you to our 2021 Safety Awards Sponsor, Safehold Special Risk.
Past Safety Award Winners
Congratulations to the 2021 Safety Award Winners and Finalists
Best Overall Safety Program (500K+ Skier Visits)
- Winner: Sun Valley Resort, Idaho
- How does a former winner of Best Overall Safety Program get recognized again? By continually pushing to be better – reducing their injury rate to its lowest yet, reaching skiers and non-skiers alike, and establishing one of the most comprehensive and polished safety messaging campaigns in the industry. Sun Valley Resort’s three primary safety initiatives – Know the Zone, #PartnerUp and Mountain Safety is Our Business – used video, on-site messaging and old fashioned guest interaction to achieve their safety goals. Having buy-in from Ski Patrol representatives simultaneously lent a voice of authority and passion for skiing to these messages. And by involving local businesses, Sun Valley Resort fostered key partnerships, and broadened the reach of mountain safety messaging to the local community and its visitors.
- Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, California
- Happy guests are safe guests as Mammoth Mountain learned this winter. The ski area invested over $1.6 million in their COVID-related capital spending, including touchless technologies, outdoor dining facilities, expansive on-site signage and employee areas that allowed for social distancing. The ski area also empowered 65 employees from different departments to participate in educating guests about this season’s new procedures. What did that lead to? Zero cases of COVID traced back to the ski area, and a whopping 8.6 NPS rating related to the area’s COVID-19 protocols.
- Palisades Tahoe, California
- Everything is better with more cowbell... in the case of Palisades Tahoe, that means Crowds. Operations. Weather. Basic Education for Leaders & Learners. This safety program brought together multiple departments to learn from each other and develop cohesive safety messaging for fellow employees and guests. The teams found relevant safety topics for the anticipated weather, crowds and operational challenges of the week, and used those topics as the focal points to mitigate common risks at the mountain.
Best Overall Safety Program (Under 500K Skier Visits)
- Winner: Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
- The volunteer ski patrol at Wintergreen Resort rolled out the #WintergreenSafe program, combining standard mountain safety practices with pandemic-related mitigation measures. The ski area was able to engage more people in the program by creating interactive campaigns and empowering their youth ski patrol participants to develop and deliver these messages to their peers. As a resort with a large share of beginners, the patrollers led by example – wearing helmets, practicing COVID-safe protocols, handing out safety swag and encouraging new skiers and riders out on the hill. This commitment not only led to positive guest interactions on the hill, but to hundreds of thousands of impressions across the ski area’s social media channels.
- Alpine Valley Ski Area, Ohio | Boston Mills/Brandywine Ski Resort, Ohio
- New to the Vail Resorts family are these two Ohio ski areas – and what a big impact they made in their first season. Both ski areas adapted the safety culture of their parent company to their areas, focusing on mitigating key risks and empowering employees to make safety-first decisions. Safety was elevated to a key value, best practices were discussed weekly, and employees were rewarded for their positive actions. The result? Neither ski area has one workers’ comp claim this season - a big victory in a season of uncertainty.
- Blue Mountain Resort, Pennsylvania
- Blue Mountain’s S3P (Safe Snowsports Patrol) system spanned multiple departments to improve guest safety and, importantly, education. These season-long efforts included emphasis on Know the Code, audio reminders in addition to signage for COVID protocols at the lifts, and incident tracking with RFID. But skiers and riders were likely most supported by SNAP – Sliders Needing Assistance Program. Instructors identify skiers struggling to make it down the slope, and offer deeply discounted lessons, removing a key barrier to lifelong participation. These programs resulted in double digit decreases in incidents over the previous season.
Best Employee Safety Program
- Winner: Mt. Hood Meadows, Oregon
- When spring 2020 presented an uncertain future for ski areas, Mt. Hood Meadows leaped into action, creating a Coronavirus Readiness Task Force to create clearly-defined goals and science-based best practices to prepare their workforce for the unprecedented season ahead. The outcome was Project CROP – Coronavirus Readiness Operational Plan – endorsed from the top down. The ski area trained its task force via the Johns Hopkins Contact Tracing course, partnered with local medical professionals to provide employees access to diagnostic testing, and prioritized employee health over the mandate to return to work. This preparation and training resulted in zero traceable workplace transmissions of the coronavirus.
- Killington Resort & Pico Mountain, Vermont
- Killington and Pico took a holistic approach to employee safety this season, making both physical health and mental wellness integral to their plan. All employees were enrolled in local non-profit Come Alive Outside’s Winter Wellness Passport program; this gave employees myriad tips to improve their overall wellness by spending time outdoors. A perennial safety champion, Killington also wove in key mountain safety messages, like Ride Another Day collision prevention and asking employees to pledge to lead by example in helmet safety.
- Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
- Taos Ski Valley took the best practices from the Winter Pandemic Playbook and implemented them resort-wide while also successfully managing their operations. The resort was a leader in employee testing, with resort staff able to access bi-weekly testing throughout the season, and requiring negative test results prior to arriving at the ski area for the start of the season. Staff were also provided with six reusable masks during the season, worked in pods to minimize interactions and were screened daily via mobile app. This, plus access to free flu shots, led to immediate and successful identification of positive cases (just one) and an overall healthy workforce.
Best Guest Safety Program
- Winner: Big SNOW American Dream, New Jersey
- Big SNOW didn’t just accept a close call and slide away – they critically reviewed every incident and near miss to identify and mitigate safety challenges of their guests, many of whom are first-timers. The biggest challenge? New skiers and riders getting in over their heads, especially those who had never seen a ski lift. The ski area implemented a multi-channel campaign, reaching the guest before they even stepped foot on snow, and continuing to do so at various touchpoints through the entry process. QR codes on on-site signage led guests to how-to videos, presented in an unintimidating way. SNOW Ambassadors, aka instructors, lap the hill to identify and help struggling guests, and provide them with free Terrain Based Learning instruction. This multi-channel, friendly and well-branded approach to guest safety led to double-digit decreases in incidents requiring medical attention, and cultivated a culture of safety among the entire Big SNOW team.
- Copper Mountain Resort, Colorado
- Recognizing the booming trend of uphill access (for Copper, a 148% growth in registered users over the previous season), Copper Mountain incorporated input multiple departments and passionate employees to expand on their already-successful uphill program by marketing safety to this non-traditional guest. Rather than leave the “non-paying” guest to their own devices, the resort gave them equal attention, creating a resort-wide program with new, clearly-marked routes, increased warning signage for both uphill and downhill skiing guests, comfortable places to transition equipment, and offering touring rentals and clinics to introduce folks to this new way of enjoying the mountain.
- Snowbasin Resort, Utah
- Snowbasin adapted their award-winning safety programs to a new reality this past season, activating their SAFERmtn Basecamp and Safety Quest scavenger hunt within COVID protocols. They used existing outdoor infrastructure like their NASTAR course and beacon park to demonstrate standard safety best practices, and staffed key areas of the mountain to engage with guests on how to stay safe on the slopes. The program reached guests both on and off the mountain, with a massive 185% increase in web traffic to their mountain safety pages (not including their COVID-19 page), and effective social media engagement.
- Winner: Rich Bailey, Risk Manager and Ski Patrol Director, China Peak, California
- China Peak risk manager and ski patrol director Rich Bailey has been a champion for mountain safety back to his collegiate senior project, titled “Skier Safety Awareness.” His 45-year tenure in the industry has led to significantly reduced hazard exposure for the ski area, its guests and its employees. It also extends to the local community – Rich has been a leader in education and outreach for decades, partnering with the Forest Service to teach mountain safety to school-age children; heading the Association of Professional Patrollers and training our mountain first responders; and leading by example, showing up every day, hours early, to ensure the mountain and its people are ready to give guests a safe experience. This has resulted in the ski area having minimal guest or employee injuries. In the words of general manager Tim Cohee: “Few people are as qualified in the state’s ski industry.” It’s the sharing of his knowledge and experience for the greater good that makes Rich Bailey a champion for safety.
- Anna Laxague, Risk Manager, Mt. Hood Meadows, Oregon
- Mt. Hood Meadows risk manager Anna Laxague stepped up to meet the challenge of the coronavirus crisis, advising departments on best practices, drafting communications, acting as a resource for information, and engaging employee participation in keeping everyone safe. She sought out community partnerships and training opportunities to minimize spread while off the mountain. Anna implemented not just physical health screenings employee screening protocols, but a program to follow up on emotional wellbeing, contributing to a supportive workplace culture.
- Michael Barber, Ski Patrol Director, Wintergreen Resort, Virginia
- Wintergreen ski patrol director Michael Barber is champion for safety both on and off the mountain, serving not only on ski patrol but as a full-time firefighter and medic. He acts with passion and enthusiasm, leading 185 patrollers, developing educational training for all mountain staff, and supporting the region’s ski areas as the Assistant Safety Program Director for NSP’s Southern Division. He created the resort’s #WintergreenSafe campaign, recognized by NSAA as one of the top safety programs in the national this season. Michael worked collaboratively to create interactive guest messaging as well as bolstering the patrol’s digital reporting and training capabilities.