safety award logo
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. The safety awards highlight the creative, innovative, and tried-and-true methods that keep guests and employees safe on the mountain. Award finalists will be recognized and the winners announced at NSAA's 2023 National Convention & Tradeshow on May 10, 2023.

2023 Safety Award Winners

Congratulations to the Safety Award winners and finalists in every category. Winners are highlighted in bold. Stay tuned for more info on their programs here!

Best Overall Safety Program (Over 500k visits)

  • Keystone Resort, CO
  • The ski area’s Guest Safety Program took time to bring empathy to safety education by providing insight into the why behind safety. To accomplish this, the Mountain Safety Team engaged with guests on snow as well as large conference groups at the ski area, gave Saturday safety talks at the summit, and offered online safety classes for those in need of a refresher on safe skiing protocols. On the employee side, Keystone Health & Safety in conjunction with Mountain Safety established relationships with department leaders and staff, provided new hire and ongoing trainings to on-mountain departments, including clinics for those who ski and ride for work, and leveraged opportunities to reinforce learnings from past employee injuries. These efforts led Keystone to their lowest level of guest incidents and collisions in a five-year period, and strong manager buy-in for the internal Health & Safety program that brought employee safety to the forefront.

  • Palisades Tahoe, CA
  • Palisades Tahoe established a formal set of safety policies and procedures that brought together many facets of safety, including Your Responsibility Code, collision mitigation and the ski area’s conduct codes. Years in the making, the resulting Conduct Standards are a systematic series of guidelines that walk employees through how to handle specific safety scenarios. By setting expectations through education, documentation, tracking and enforcing, Palisades Tahoe has been able to reduce collision and incident rates while seeing large increases in visitation. In support of this overall safety awareness effort, the ski area rolled out several messaging points that impressed judges, including: an engaging video series that emphasized the important nuances of guests’ responsibility in choosing terrain and skiing and riding predictably, with plans for future content on deep snow safety and spring skiing strategy; a proactive and savvy use of their app with push notifications that kept guests apprised of current mountain conditions; and a commitment to making the big mountain experience more approachable and navigable with the addition of double black designations and experts only signage.

Best Overall Safety Program (Under 500k visits)

  • Blue Mountain Resort, PA
  • Last season, Blue Mountain Resort introduced a technology component to its Safe Snow Sports Patrol (SP3) reckless sliding prevention program that increased ski patrol’s efficiency and effectiveness. Ski patrollers can now simply scan a guest’s RFID ticket or pass media. Through this digitization, the patroller can simultaneously log a reckless skiing citation, verify the guest’s identity and if they should get a warning, revoke repeat offenders’ lift access in real time, and notify all other guest-facing departments of the status. As a result, ski patrollers at Blue Mountain were able to gain back 50% of their time. The ski area was also able to reduce incidents, dropping nearly 20%.

  • Mountain Creek Resort, NJ
  • A well-rounded guest education and assistance program used multiple channels to reach guests before arrival and on-site to inform and remind them of the proper skills and knowledge needed to safely navigate the mountain. Mountain Creek’s Beginner’s Guide covered important safety basics, smartly using existing resources from PSIA-AASI and NSAA’s Your Responsibility Code combined with their own. To celebrate and share the new Your Responsibility Code with guests, the YRC-themed game show, Cash Cabriolet, took the idea of quizzing and rewarding visitors on the 10 points a step further, creating a video series to effectively multiply the message. Over five seasons, all of these strategic initiatives resulted in an overall reduction from 3.42 down to 2.45 injuries per 1,000 guests, a decrease of 24% in incidents requiring medical transport, and a 16% increase in helmets sold during Safety Month. The ski area also reported a 10-year low in workers comp claims.
  • Wintergreen Resort, VA
  • In conjunction with its terrain park’s first Rail Jam, Wintergreen Resort delivered a targeted campaign designed to solve for a specific issue: bringing awareness to the prevalence of wrist injuries in the snowboarding community. Cleverly branded Guard the Grab, the ski area tackled wrist injury prevention through education via their lesson programs, and engaging with guests through stickers and compelling signage. Wintergreen also normalized wrist guard usage as essential snowboarding gear through modeling via ski patrol, discounts on wrist guards and social media imagery. Though the ski area only saw a modest increase in wrist guard use during its Rail Jam event, it did have solid social media engagement, reported increased awareness anecdotally, and found that the logo was circulating through many snowboarding communities.

Best Collision Prevention Program

  • Mad River Mountain, OH
  • Mad River Mountain put specific focus on guest-facing collision prevention last season. The ski area’s collision component employed strategic use of bright padding that’s always facing uphill, signage in certain areas, like slow zones and trail merges, and fencing around the lift maze to be sure guests can clearly see that they’re entering the line area. To provide an extra level of safety in the lift maze zone, Mad River Mountain utilized chicanes on its two steepest slopeside trails that flow directly into lift mazes. This fence and baffle system forced people to make a turn instead of speeding straight into the lift line, which worked well for the ski area with a significant decrease in incidents.
  • Killington Resort | Pico Mountain, VT
  • Killington/Pico's commitment to collision awareness and prevention is core to their safety and guest education initiatives. With a focus on the #RideAnotherDay campaign, the ski areas incorporated signage on lift towers, hosted weekly on-hill activations led by ski patrol during Safety Month, and on select days, handed out burritos for positive engagements. Killington/Pico also continued their partnership with #RideAnotherDay founders Chauncy and Kelli Johnson, who shared their story with more than 250 guests, community members, employees and local schools while raising awareness and close to $10,000 for their new nonprofit: Snow Angel Foundation. Best of all, the extra effort the ski areas are putting behind collision safety over the years appears to be driving a shift in culture, with guests holding other guests accountable, as well as combatting the perception that collisions are increasing in frequency and severity.

Best Responsibility Code Program

  • Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort, WA
  • The ski area leveraged their relationship with a film company to produce a high-quality YRC video, which easily chunked out into a series of shorter snippets to illustrate each element of the code in a visual and engaging way. Judges especially appreciated the videos’ animation overlay that provided a leveled-up understanding of the code. The videos were distributed to a large audience via email, social media, on-mountain digital signage, and guest and employee-facing apps in February and March to keep the momentum of Safety Month going. The effort paid off with YRC videos that performed as well or better than the weekly conditions video, 57.4% higher views than the weekly stoke videos on YouTube, an average reach 1.7 times larger with 2.5 times as many comments per post, and 3.7 times more shares from Instagram and Facebook Reels.

  • Mountain Creek Resort, NJ
  • See write-up for "Best Overall Safety Program"

  • Snowbasin Resort, UT
  • Internally, the ski area created a number of education opportunities, from YRC safety bulletins that went to all managers to employee message boards and department safety meetings featuring visits from the Health and Safety team. Their effort targeted guests through website placements, digital message board on the road up to the ski area and other on-site signage, safety chair banners for sharable photo ops, and Safety Month activations like a Week of Safety Deals. Teams took a divide-and-conquer approach, tackling different areas of the mountain with promotions for positive interactions. Judges were especially impressed with Snowbasin’s efforts to engage kiddos, including ski/ride school initiatives that taught YRC as a fundamental component of each lesson, its Snowshoe Adventure Zone created just for YRC education, and a well-executed Safety Poster Content (see their winning entries in the 2023 Convention issue, pg. 80). This comprehensive campaign was capped off with solid results that measured success in YRC interactions, including 5,000 free drink cards distributed and 308 guests taking the Safety Pledge to follow the YRC.

Best Guest Safety Program

  • Blue Mountain Resort, PA
  • Blue Mountain Resort’s simple but effective Sliders Needing Assistance Program (SNAP) program recognized that many first-time guests don’t end up in a skiing or riding lesson. Blue Mountain’s Learning Center Staff take SNAP runs where they’ll sweep the slopes for guests who are obviously struggling and help them get down successfully with light instruction. Once safely at the bottom, the guest has the option to purchase a heavily discounted lesson for $30, which they can activate right from their phone. SNAP lessons were up by nearly 100 over last season and may have contributed to the reported reduction in guest incidents of more than 200 fewer than last season. 

  • Mountain Creek Resort, NJ
  • See write-up for "Best Overall Safety Program"

  • Woodward Park City, UT
  • With Safety Month as their launch pad, Woodward Park City set out to increase guest awareness of Park SMART initiatives and promote safe skiing and riding when using freestyle terrain. Utilizing just a phone to capture and distribute the short videos, the ski area accomplished that objective and then some, hitting a record number of views on Instagram and growing its TikTok audience by 3,500+ followers with 42,000+ engagements on that platform. Social media was a smart choice for campaign distribution that helped Woodward engage a younger audience, some of which even wanted to be involved in future videos. Judges liked the funny, creative and engaging content made in partnership with ski patrol, but had just one wish for next time: helmets on the heads of all those partaking in terrain park fun.

  • Ski California
  • Ski California modernized its Mountain Safety Guide for 2022–23, launching a digital format to more effectively spread the word about making good decisions on the slopes. Based on the print guide that won NSAA’s Safety Impact Award five years ago, the upgrade to the guide brought massive awareness to safety this season thanks to a strategic distribution effort that included a chance to win a Ski California 2023–24 Gold Pass for passing a safety quiz. Judges loved that the comprehensive and engaging website with accessible, spot-on safety messaging appeals to skiers and riders of all ages and levels, guest and staff alike, and were blown away by the impact of this campaign that reached millions of guests. Not only was Ski California’s own distribution impressive — a server upgrade was needed to handle incoming traffic — but the association also made it a no-brainer for their member ski areas to leverage this turnkey toolkit complete with tracking, customizable posters and social promos. Kudos to Ski California for going to great safety lengths on behalf of their ski areas (read more in NSAA Journal’s Convention issue, pg. 72).

Best Employee Safety Program

  • Arizona Snowbowl, AZ
  • The ski area’s thoughtful and comprehensive plan began with hiring a full-time, year-round health and safety manager, forming a committee that draws from each department, and formalizing a program with an impressive amount of clear documentation for standards and protocols. With overall objectives to increase employee engagement in the Health and Safety Program and break down barriers to reporting safety concerns, Arizona Snowbowl streamlined access to many of its safety documents, such as its safety data sheet library and hazard mitigation log, fostering accountability through use of technology. The ski area also created the Snowbowl Safety Saguaro mascot and a Snowbowl Safety Sleuth program that recognizes a team member each month. The team quantified success through an internal survey, which saw all safety questions score higher than the previous year with an above 75% positive response across the board. Other metrics included: 151 mitigated premise hazards, 42 reported safety concerns, 14 committee meetings, and 28 weekly safety emails to leadership.

  • Mountain Creek Resort, NJ
  • See write-up for "Best Overall Safety Program"

  • Vail Mountain, CO
  • Through one of the most holistic safety programs of the season, Vail Mountain ensures that all employees get home safe and well every day through a tailored focus on mind, body and education. For the mind, an array of mental health resources are available to Vail staff, including a mindfulness app, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers confidential counseling, and employee wellness self-care offerings to help build healthy habits, resilience and other skills. On the physical front, the ski area provides several fitness and training programs to build athletic capabilities and prevent injury. Their commitment to education includes training on risks, and consistent and targeted safety messaging campaigns, such as their Employee Safety Alert video series with short, practical reminders on tactics to stay safe while skiing and riding.

Safety Champion

  • Dempsey Mendrzycki  |  Big SNOW American Dream, NJ
  • Dempsey Mendrzycki, who leads risk and safety at Mountain Creek and Big SNOW in the role of risk blazer, impressed colleagues and judges by taking on both guest and employee safety across the two ski operations. Mendrzycki focused on incident and near-miss data; he dove into collecting and analyzing historical guest and staff incident trends and has championed regular safety audits with other team leaders to identify areas for improvement and on-the-spot training and learning. His campaign for 100% adherence to anti-slip traction spikes nearly eradicated slip and fall injuries over the last two seasons. Mendrzycki has also reshaped the organization’s safety culture by spending time at the resorts to personally work alongside his colleagues and get buy-in from all team members.
  • Chris North  |  Breckenridge Ski Resort, CO
  • It’s refreshing to see a leader like Breckenridge’s Chris North, GM of food and beverage, getting some shine for all his great work on safety. In his development of safety training for all F&B locations, North makes sure to cover everything from cut glove safety to the broad strokes of road safety for F&B vehicles. North also leads weekly safety reporting for the department and encourages ownership across F&B locations. His creative and diligent approach to F&B safety has landed the department among the lowest for injury rates Breckenridge wide. He’s also a member of the Breckenridge Safety Leadership Committee.

  • Jonathan Cernanec  |  Keystone Resort, CO
  • Equipped with a ski patrol background and a goal to increase his impact on resort safety, Jonathan Cernanec put his positive attitude and high energy toward developing and owning an impressive list of safety-promoting programs. Among them are customized YRC safety talks for large groups visiting Keystone, a well-designed, guest-facing YRC video series shared via social media, Slope Safety ski arounds for resort leaders, and an approach that turns tense interactions about irresponsible skiing into positive learning experiences. On the staff side, just one of Cernanec’s many safety efforts is a weekly report card with progress toward safety goals. Judges were also impressed with his QR code-based survey for bike patrollers that centers them on safety with equipment, well-being and task checks each time they head out on the trail. This contributed to an injury-free season last summer for the bike patrol team.

  • Shelley Ekman  |  Snowbasin Resort, UT
  • Shelley Ekman, Snowbasin’s health and safety coordinator, puts incredible effort and energy toward countless guest and employee-facing initiatives for the resort. On the staff side, her tailored approach to safety includes taking ownership of the ski area’s internal Instagram to share safety socially, creating a focus on mental health awareness and employee psychological safety, organizing a staff safety pledge, leading an employee recognition program, and even developing individualized safety programs at the department level. Ekman prioritizes guest safety by modifying signage and messaging as needed, leading Safety Month planning and partaking in activities across the resort, and coordinating site visits from various safety organizations and partners. While innovating new approaches to safety, Ekman incorporates feedback and suggestions from insurer visits and NPS surveys. She’s quick to identify an opportunity or need to improve safety, and then takes that a step further to find solutions.

  • Chrissie Oken  |  Vail Mountain, CO
  • Chrissie Oken, a ski patroller at Vail Mountain, spearheaded a partnership among Vail’s ski patrol and a number of organizations, including Vail Mountain Rescue, USFS, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), Helly Hansen, Vail Brewing Company and Beaver Creek Ski Patrol, to bring educational and fun events to the local mountain community. Among the comprehensive outreach programs was a Community Avalanche Night featuring speakers on better decision making in avalanche terrain, and how to use the CAIC website. Follow-up events covered the State of the Snowpack, where Vail Mountain Rescue presented lessons from recent rescues, and a CAIC forecaster shared recent avalanches, accidents and how weak layers were developing. Oken also organized Youth Avalanche Awareness Weekends. These two-day programs were geared toward recreating safely in the backcountry and focused on basic safety and rescue, terrain identification, and decision making.

Category Descriptions

Understanding each award category will help you create the best application possible. Familiarize yourself with the 2023 Safety Award categories here.

Best Overall (up to 2 winners)
Comprehensive programs that demonstrate effective safety education and prevention to establish a culture of safety among employees and guests. 

Best Guest Safety Program
Standout programs that promote awareness of important factors like wearing a helmet and using chairlifts and terrain parks safely. 

Best Employee Safety Program
Exceptional initiatives that put staff safety front and center every day and keep employees educated on safety best practices and programs.

Best Your Responsibility Code Program
Efforts that exceed at promoting the updated Your Responsibility Code’s 10 tenets through both internal training and guest education.

Best Collision Prevention Campaign
Campaigns that communicate the critical message of collision awareness and prevention most effectively, including efforts specific to #RideAnotherDay.

Safety Champion
A ski area employee who shows dedication toward helping employees and guests learn about safe skiing and riding, and advocates for safer work practices and healthier behaviors.

Past Safety Award Winners

2022 Safety Awards

Looking for inspiration? Read about last year's award-winning programs and finalists to understand the caliber of a winning project. Also view the 2022 NSAA Awards Ceremony that took place in the Country Music Awards Theatre in Nashville, TN. And, learn more about the 2022 Safety Impact Award below.

Best Overall Safety Program

  • Winner: Gore Mountain, NY
    • Gore Mountain won the overall safety program award because they truly went all-in on messaging and activations across the resort. Gore’s team identified three areas of focus: snowboarder blind spot awareness, Your Responsibility Code and Know the Zone. They put their own twist on each one, engaging guests and employees through creative activations, visual signage across the resort, and on videos across the ORDA family of ski areas. Looking forward, Gore can further elevate this program through tracking metrics across it and its sister ski areas and continue to cultivate the culture of safety among its people.
  • Taos Ski Valley, NM
    • When Taos focuses on an initiative, they take a whole community approach. This season, the ski area committed to lift safety, specifically for their littlest guests. They started with their internal culture, putting 300 employees through lift safety training and having employees lead by example by putting the bar down when they ride. Then, they moved on to the parents, educating them through email communications and offering Kinderlift vests (which, if you’ve ever skied with a small child, are glorious instruments). Next up were the visuals: bullseyes on seats, eye-catching signage in the loading areas and a practice chair in the base area. All of these actions impressed responsible lift riding upon kids before they even slid down the slopes, and it led to zero incidents involving kids and lifts this season.
  • Whitefish Mountain Resort, MT
    • In order to improve your safety program and boost a safety culture, you have to understand your baseline. Leadership walks at Whitefish Mountain Resort identified existing and potential issues, leading to clear tasks and expectations when it came to improving physical safety in their facilities. The ski area committed both financial and leadership resources to this effort, which led to improved guest and employee safety. When performed year over year, it can become second nature to employees to observe and correct issues in all facilities, across departments.

Best Guest Safety Program

  • Winner: Eldora Mountain Resort, CO
    • When developing their guest safety programming, Eldora didn’t just identify a problem to be solved, they set a goal to affect a culture shift and ingrain safety into all aspects of the guest experience. This can be not just operationally difficult, but emotionally difficult as well. Rather than shut down in the face of adversity, they stepped up. In order to change guest behavior, safety messaging had to be emphasized daily and reach a wide number of people. The ski area increased the size of their Mountain Safety staff and moved their safety class online where it could be proactively taken by anyone, not just reactively taken by offenders. In fact, 77% of those who completed the course were not offenders, but general public looking to improve their on-hill safety knowledge. Messaging helped guests understand the risk factors and behaviors within their control and was delivered through a combination of on-site and external communication and outreach. Their hard work yielded results — in this case, an incident rate reduced by 12.24% since 2019–20. More importantly, Eldora created a program that can be replicated by other ski areas — and become even more influential — season after season.
  • Copper Mountain Resort, CO
    • Copper Mountain Resort took a whole resort approach to its Safety Fest program, combining skier safety, personal health and wellness, and positive reinforcement to get its safety messages to its guests. They also set clear goals: reduce incidents and increase guest engagement. The immediate result was a 5% reduction in incidents requiring ski patrol in the three weeks following the Safety Fest activation. The ski area achieved the second goal by sponsoring a guest safety video contest and investing more than $17,000 in giveaways to reward the behaviors they wished to see. Copper also stayed true to its community-focused Play Forever initiative by inviting local Summit County nonprofit Building Hope to participate and share mental health resources.
  • Killington Mountain Resort, VT
    • Over the past decade, ski areas have embraced uphill travel — and that boomed even more in the pandemic. Despite the fact that our ski areas have perfectly good lifts, people still love walking up the slopes. The team at Killington proactively instituted an uphill travel initiative, fostering a “culture of knowledge.” This proved effective — even with a 37% increase in uphill travel passes, they still reported no accidents or injuries. This is right in line with Killington’s consistent emphasis on collision safety, a thread that runs through their terrain park program, too. What’s so special about Killington is that they aren’t complacent; even with no increase in collision-related incidents, they still actively work to educate and influence the behaviors of all their guests, whether traveling downhill or uphill.

Best Employee Safety Program

  • Winner: Breckenridge, CO     
    • Breckenridge’s “Focus on Today” program is what we mean when we talk about building a culture of safety at a ski area. Through this program, employees are empowered to identify and report high-risk actions or situations. Departments were encouraged to share their daily area of focus via mountain-wide communications. Yes, daily — because safety doesn’t take a day off. The result of this tenacious effort? Over 35% reduction in employee injuries over the past two years and a staff that understands its role as part of a culture of overall resort safety.

Safety Champion

  • Winner: Kaitlyn Schwalbe, Guest Service Manager, Snowbasin Resort, UT
    • We love when someone goes above and beyond the standard scope of their job; it just proves that safety is everyone’s responsibility. It makes sense that a ski resort with a demonstrably strong record in risk management empowers its employees to make it their own. Kaitlyn Schwalbe managed several programs this past season, including the SAFERmtn Basecamp, to positive and measurable results. She formed the resort’s safety committee, bringing together multiple departments and fostering an environment of culture and respect. According to her co-workers, Schwalbe is the ”go-to person with an eye for safety in all areas,” and dedicated to making the Snowbasin community the best it can be.
  • Bob Piede, Safety Office Manager, Holiday Valley, NY
    • When you’re working in risk management, or in resort ops in general, it can be difficult to look beyond the immediate issue or risk. But according to others at the ski area, that’s just what Bob Piede is able to do. We know that safety culture starts from within. Piede consistently developed new ways to reach Holiday Valley’s staff, allowing their voices to be heard through a suggestion program and committing to their health and wellness.
  • Mark Roberts, Health and Safety Supervisor, Gore Mountain, NY
    • Mark Roberts’ influence was critical in Gore Mountain winning the overall safety award. One of his greatest strengths is identifying root causes of common issues, sharing these issues with the team and then implementing programs to address the cause. His combined safety and education initiatives have reduced guest and employee injuries and created that ever-important culture of safety. One of his key strengths is communication — he established regular trainings and pathways for communication and did so in a supportive and positive way. He’s also gone beyond Gore and helped ORDA implement congruent programs across its mountains.

Thank you to our 2022 Safety Awards Sponsor, Safehold Special Risk.     

2022 Safety Impact Award

This new award, first given in 2021, recognizes the extraordinary effect an individual or program had on its intended audience or target and represents ingenuity, dedication and lasting impact. NSAA was proud to honor ski industry pioneer Mary Bozack of MountainGuard Insurance Program. Read about Mary's contributions in her full profile from the 2021 Convention issue of the NSAA Journal.