Winter Sports and Snowmobile Accident Reconstruction
 

Forensic Crash Reconstruction for Snow Sports at Ski Resorts and in the Backcountry
 

Veritech’s forensic engineers have experience analyzing the relatively unique conditions that encompass ski and snowboard accidents and have the expertise to reconstruct these accidents properly. Our office location along the Front Range of Colorado provides us easy access to virtually all major ski resorts in Colorado, Southern Wyoming, and Northern New Mexico within a single day’s trip. Our team is available and ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

 

Ski And Snowboard Accident Reconstruction
 

skiing and snowboarding at ski resort

Accidents that occur within designated ski area or ski resort boundries are unfortunately common and require specialized skill and expertise to address properly. Ski areas, or ski resorts, often have to be designed in such a way that the terrain allows for safe access. Believe it or not, there are even areas where skiers and snowboarders are required to follow traffic flow and “speed limits” while on the mountain. Indeed, ski resorts take their patron’s safety very seriously. Because ski and snowboard accidents, occur on  snow covered or icy surfaces which are constantly changing, reconstruction of these accidents pose unique challenges.

Groomed versus un-groomed surface, and patches of ice can all affect the surface characteristics in ways that require special attention by a forensic engineer. Additionally, skiers and snowboarders are capable of traversing challenging terrain at very high speeds, sometimes at up to highway speeds. These accidents typically happen on surfaces that are at a significantly steep slope, and can even occur in adverse weather conditions where visibility is an issue.

 

Snowmobile Accident Reconstruction
 

snowmobile tracks in snow

Today's modern snowmobiles, otherwise known as snow machines or simply “sleds”, are becoming more capable, more powerful, and faster than ever before. Snowmobile tracks provide amazing grip on the snowy surface, and are the main component for both forward acceleration and stopping ability. Snowmobile skis typically provide turning abilities in a similar manner to an All-Terrain Vehicle. Trail oriented snowmobiles are capable of achieving triple digit speeds and offer comfort and exceptional handling in harsh winter environments. Groomed Snowmobile trails are considered to be more controlled surfaces as compared to backcountry, or “boon docking” through open, ungroomed areas. Designated routes often see the most snowmobile traffic, however, and are therefore the locations where machine to machine accidents occur most frequently.

 

With further advancement in engine technology and track design, off-trail “mountain” snowmobiles are becoming the fastest growing new category of snowmobile use. These machines have massive horsepower and large tracks that are capable of evacuating snow at a very fast rate. These machines are often used in deep powdery snow, off of designated trails where terrain is steep and snow conditions are constantly changing. In these conditions, skis provide little steering capability due to the lack of traction in deep snowy powder. Instead, these snowmobiles are turned by changing the attitude of the machine (side-to-side) in a rolling manner. When this is accomplished the snowmobile track redirects the snowmobile in the same orientation as the tilt of the snowmobile. In short, turning ability of a snowmobile in back-country conditions is accomplished in a much different manner than a trail oriented snowmobile. Braking and accelerating for mountain snowmobiles is accomplished by controlling the track speed, however the terrain and snow cover greatly affect the machine’s speed over the snow. There are other hybrid off-trail vehicles within the snow machine category as well.

 

"Snow Bikes" are a combination between an off-road motorcycle and a snowmobile. These machines offer another way for users to access the backcountry and are operated in a similar fashion to a motorcycle, with the main difference being that the rear drive wheel is replaced with a track and the front wheel is replaced by a ski. All of these types of machines require skill to operate safely, and issues such as rider dynamics and rider skill level come into consideration during accident reconstruction.

Backcountry and Off-Trail Snowsport Accident Reconstruction
 

backcountry snowboarding and snowmobiling

In addition to accidents that occur in a controlled or groomed snow environment, there are also many incidents that occur outside of boundaries, otherwise known as off-piste, or backcountry. These conditions typically consist of extreme terrain, deep powdery snow, and unstable conditions. Mountain snowmobiling and backcountry skiing or snowboarding all take place in the backcountry where the environment and terrain become much more variable. What’s more, backcountry snow sports are gaining in popularity at an alarming rate, as indicated by recent developments of backcountry designated areas within National Forests as well as the wealth of information on backcountry locations as found on the internet. Many users of these areas are unaware of the hazards that exist, and accidents as a result of inexperience are common.

Snow Sport Accident Reconstruction: Things to Consider
 

While there are many similarities between accidents that occur at a ski resort or on a snowmobile trail, it is important to realize two key differences. The first is that oftentimes physical evidence is scarce. For example, there may be tracks leading to the point of impact, or point of rest. However, winter conditions change rapidly, and the conditions at the time of accident may be different than those during investigation. Secondly, it is important to realize that responding emergency personnel are typically not trained in accident reconstruction, and collection of information and evidence by those who are first on the scene may not be sufficient to perform a reconstruction using standard techniques. In addition these personnel, whether they are ski patrol, or National Forest Rangers, are sometimes understaffed during responses. With that being said, Veritech has the ability to extract significant scientific data from information such as video and photographs using the science of photogrammetry, which can greatly improve the quality of reconstruction in adverse winter conditions. Veritech's expertise includes over 20 years of experience in snow sports in-bounds and out-of-bounds. Please contact us today to discuss your case further.

Please contact our winter sports and snowmobile expert, Joe Tremblay, P.E., D.F.E. at 303-660-4395 to discuss your case and receive a free initial consultation with honest and candid comments.

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