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Culture

Ski Patrols Curbing the Fast and the Furious

Skiing has become an increasingly dangerous sport. Now one Swiss resort has come up with a novel way to try to ensure that guests leave the slopes as they arrived -- in one piece.

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Not everybody can get to the bottom of the slope in one piece

Across Europe's Alps, the winter ski season is in full swing. Thousands of holiday makers are already enjoying almost perfect snow conditions, while thousands more are packing their skis and getting ready to go.

But at the hugely popular Swiss resort of Grindelwald, located 75 km (50 miles) from the Swiss capital Bern, not everybody has the time to enjoy the scenery.

"We have to be prepared to go out and get the injured," said Martin Mathys of the Grindelwald mountain rescue service.

"With the speed, of course, we have a problem. The equipment is always getting better, you can ski faster, and then you have also the head injuries," he said.

Chasing the wind

Kuh über den Alpen

It's a mad, mad world: where cows can fly and skiiers get pulled over

With today's modern carving skis, skiers can reach 80 kilometers an hour. Losing one's balance at that speed, let alone crashing into somebody else, can really put a dramatic twist on an otherwise wonderful winter vacation.

"Speed is the big danger factor, but it's not just speed, it's also the way people ski," said Paul Gunter, who is head of the emergency ward at the local hospital.

"They make turns where they really do use the whole width of the slope, and that leads to collisions. We're seeing injuries now that are more like what you see in car accidents -- head injuries, and back injuries," Gunter said.

Staying on the safe side

Skimarathon

Hardcore skiing aficionados can even cause traffic jams

The rising number of accidents is making some skiers stay away -- even the keen ones. That's not a good development for a resort like Grindelwald, which has attracted tourists since the 17th century. So, local officials have come up with a novel solution to decrease the number of visitors leaving Grindelwald overdosed on painkillers and wearing a cast.

"We were asking people on the slopes, how do you feel, and a lot of people, especially families, said I just don't feel safe because there are so many fast skiers around me," Benny Kaufmann of the Grindelwald tourism organization explained.

"And then we thought we'd make a new slope, with speed limits, and people will feel safer," Kaufmann said.

Speed patrols

The new 30 km an hour slope has an electronic monitor to check the skiers' speed, and patrols who pull them over if they break the limit. The fast and the furious don't get fined, but asked to move to a faster slope. The idea has already found favor with holiday makers.

Schweizer Flagge und Matterhorn

Enjoy the view -- hopefully not through a hospital window

"I think it's excellent," said a Grindelwald skier. "It's quite intimidating when you're coming down and you hear snowboarders especially rushing behind you. You think, oh, which way are they going? So I'm all in favor of it."

The speed limits aren't designed to spoil the fun: quite the opposite, they are there to ensure that every skier, regardless of their skill level, has fun while making sure everybody stays as safe as possible.

So, if you're heading to the Alps this winter, and you're not intentionally trying to break some part of your body, you should try to follow the advice your mother would give you: Don't ski too fast, don't ski above your ability, and wear a helmet. If you do that, and with just a bit of luck, your après ski will be spent, not in hospital, but outside -- glass of mulled wine in hand -- watching the sun set over the Alps.

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