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 February 2007

Safety on the Ski Slopes

A true story: I have only been scheduled to go skiing once in my life and that trip was canceled. The reason? A snowstorm blew through and we couldn’t make it out of town, let alone to Pennsylvania’s Pocono mountain ski slopes. That was in 1979 and I’ve never tried to go skiing since, but for the millions of people who do ski every year, a pair of ASTM International standards exist that ensure safety testing on their skis, bindings and boots is done properly. These standards, F 1063, Practice for Functional Inspections and Adjustments of Alpine Ski/Binding/ Boot Systems, and F 1064, Practice for Sampling and Inspection of Complete and Incomplete Alpine Ski/Binding/Boot Systems in Rental Applications, are under the jurisdiction of ASTM International Committee F27 on Snow Skiing, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Steven Hanft, a risk manager at Snow Summit Ski Corporation, Big Bear Lake, Calif., has been an ASTM member since 1982 and has been instrumental in the development and continued maintenance of F 1063 and F 1064. “Not a lot of information was available to ski shops in the early 1980s, in terms of good, workable technical programs,” says Hanft. “That’s what got me started at ASTM.”

Hanft says that there was a great deal of incompatibility, particularly among different types of boots and bindings, at that time. “The only time you could have any comfort level that the equipment you were putting out at your shop had a reasonable chance of working correctly and having some degree of safety was through the testing of equipment,” says Hanft. “Testing was being taught in some technical workshops that were available to the industry, but it wasn’t always widely practiced.”

After becoming chair of Subcommittee F27.50 on Shop Procedures (Retail and Rental) in 1986, Hanft and the subcommittee worked toward having some of the existing testing procedures developed into ASTM standards. The subcommittee’s efforts were rewarded in 1989 when both F 1063 and F 1064 were approved.

The purpose of practice F 1063 is to provide procedures for inspection and adjustment of alpine ski/binding/boot systems. Hanft, who is still chair of Subcommittee F27.50, notes that F 1063 pertains to retail shops and service centers that are working on or selling equipment components that will be used as a set by one customer. The procedures detailed in F 1064, on the other hand, apply to rental shops that have a large inventory, in which different combinations of skis, boots and bindings are used to create unique systems on a daily basis.

Hanft says that the arrival of F 1063 and F 1064 coincided with a general improvement in the manufacture of ski equipment and that this combination of events has led to a lowering of injuries to skiers, particularly in the case of injuries to the tibia and also injuries due to equipment-related problems. While ski-related injuries to the tibia were once the most common problem in skiing, their incidence has fallen by more than 90 percent since the 1970s; they now do not make it into the top 10 injury categories. Most of those that remain could have been prevented had that equipment been properly inspected prior to use.

Jasper Shealy, chairman of Committee F27 and professor emeritus, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Carl Ettlinger, chair of Subcommittee F27.10 on Binding Test Procedures and president, Vermont Ski Safety Equipment, have jointly conducted a 32-year case control study of ski release binding system performance for controls and selected injury diagnosis groups. Shealy agrees with Hanft’s assessment of practices F 1063 and F 1064 and also notes that the standards have had the unanticipated effect of greatly reducing the number of ski injury lawsuits in two ways. “First, use of the standards has reduced the number of incidents where faulty equipment was put into service and hurt someone,” says Shealy. “Second, the standards give the shops clear guidelines that can be used in court to show that they followed procedures and the injury was due to something other than the equipment.”

Shealy believes that the impact of practices F 1063 and F 1064 on the ski industry and for skiers in general has been enormous. “It has truly been a win-win situation in that the ASTM standards have improved safety for the consumer while at the same time helping ski shops to conduct their business in a more efficient and cost effective manner,” says Shealy.

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