Very little research exists regarding the risks of visiting snow destinations. This study attempts to bridge this gap through insights into skiers’ perceptions of risk, of great relevance to snow industry stakeholders, by identifying factors that influence skiers. The research was conducted in the Spanish Pyrenees, using information gathered from adult members of two ski clubs that regularly visit this snow destination. Skiing risks, accommodation risks and public safety risks were found to have the most important bearing on visitors’ risk perceptions. However, actual figures demonstrate that respondents had some difficulties in assessing the typicality of the risk items and tended to misjudge the true level of the risks.
Visiting a snow destination and carrying out activities there involve risks, in varying degrees, to the safety and security of skiers (Phillip & Hodgkinson, 1994). According to the multinational insurance company Intermundial Seguros, in line with the European average, 6% of skiers stated that they had suffered some sort of accident or mishap while skiing in Spain (Carús, 2009). Skiers cannot ignore the fact that by visiting a snow destination, they voluntarily assume risks of accident either to themselves or attributable to third parties (Arroyo, 2005). They are aware of these risks, and hope to minimize them by deciding where to ski not only on the basis of quality and price, but also on perceived personal safety and security (Lamarca, 2004). Prior research has demonstrated that the perceived risks visitors are prepared to assume influence skiers’ choice of destination (Pearce, 1988; Sönmez & Graefe, 1998), and therefore a destination’s success is highly dependent on these perceptions (Beirman, 2003). It follows that safety and security of visitors are determinant aspects of a healthy snow industry. Research on ski accidents and injuries (Deibert, Aronsson, Johnson, Ettlinger & Shealy, 1998; Ueland & Kopjar, 1998) and on the methods in place to control (Langran & Selvaraj, 2002; Tressera, 1985) and prevent them (Jørgensen, Fredensborg, Haraszuk & Crone, 1998; Koehle, Lloyd-Smith, & Taunton, 2002) is extensive, and highly illustrative of the type of risk that cause them. However, the literature review revealed only one study that examined risk perceptions of mountain sports victims (see Chamarro & Fernández-Castro, 2009), and two studies that examine risk perceptions in mountain destinations (see Eitzinger & Wiedemann, 2007; Raich, Pechlaner & Dreyer, 2005), although the latter were based on residents’ rather than skiers’ views. The present research therefore aims to explore skiers’ perceptions of risk, which are relevant to the public and private management of snow destinations. By contrasting the subjective perceptions of risk with the actual likelihood of accident occurrence provided by official figures, managers can thoroughly assess the dimensions of the problems to be avoided or solved through their safety policies. Furthermore, since the success of a destination depends on these perceptions, it is of the utmost importance for managers to formulate communication policies designed to prevent visitors misjudging the true level of risk. To this end, the study analyses the risk perceptions of a sample of regular skiers and, specifically, investigates the importance they attach to a series of risks they assume when visiting a snow destination. Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to provide insights into skiers’ perceptions of risk, by identifying the factors that influence these perceptions. The results reveal a range of dimensions that should be taken into account when formulating communication and safety policies, namely: skiing, transportation, natural hazards, infrastructure, accommodation and public safety. Of these aspects, skiing risks, accommodation risks and public safety risks were found to have most significant bearing on visitors’ perceptions of risk.
2.1 Data Data were gathered through a personal survey carried out between January and April 2009. The analysis was undertaken with information provided by adult members of two ski clubs that had visited the Spanish Pyrenees, on at least five occasions. It was assumed that regular skiers, due to their experience of snow destinations they are familiar with, are well informed about the risks of visiting them. Personal surveys were carried out by experienced interviewers who had received specific directions for the task. A total of 239 valid surveys were obtained for the study. 2.2 Respondent profile
Table 1 presents a profile of the respondents, showing basic demographic and socio-economic characteristics. More than half (61.6%) were male and almost half (49.3%) were between 41 and 50 years of age. Most of the sample were married or lived with their partners (63.5%), and their households mainly consisted of four people (45.4%). Regarding education levels, 58.3% had completed secondary education and 27.1% had a university degree. The average annual household income was between 40 000 and 52 000 euros in 49.3% of the cases. The respondents’ skiing habits were noteworthy in that only 2.2% of the sample claimed to visit the Pyrenees once per season, while 10.1% claimed to go there more than seven times. Close to half the sample (42.4 %) stated that they visit the Pyrenees four or five times per winter season. Only 7.7% of the sample had suffered any sort of accident when visiting the Pyrenees to ski. Overall, this sample comprised mainly mature adults in stable relationships from a middle socio-economic group. 2.3 Variable measurement and methodology
Following Churchill (1979), the items used to analyze skiers’ risk perceptions were selected in two stages. Firstly, to generate the broadest possible range of elements with the characteristics of variety, dimensionality, stability, relevance and usefulness (Malhotra, 1981) that can be included in the dominion of the construct assessed, we began by considering the list of items used by Eitzinger and Wiedemann (2006) which, after in-depth interviews with the heads of three Civil Defense Organizations located in the Spanish Pyrenees, subsequently rose to 32. Secondly, to reach a compromise solution between the inclusion of the most determinant elements of risk and a practical length for the questionnaire to be applied in the empirical research (Camisón, 1999), the Delphi method was used to refine the original collection, and after two rounds of consultation with a panel of fifteen experts (Linstone & Turoff, 1975) a consensus was reached on the 25 items that were finally used. Once the items had been selected and described, an exploratory factor analysis was performed. This methodology allows us to observe the different factor structures of the items, and to determine the underlying dimensions. Cronbach’s alpha coefficients were calculated to test the reliability of the underlying scales. Finally, a linear regression was applied to analyze the significance of each factor on the studied variable. With the exception of the demographic variables, the items employed were measured on an eleven-point scale, from 0 “Totally Disagree” to 10 “Totally Agree”.
3. Analysis and results
The description of the items, distribution of responses and standard deviations are shown in Table 2. Results indicate that the aspects with higher mean values are related to skiing within ski resort boundaries. For example, collision between skiers, crash against an object, or accident accessing ski lifts obtain mean values above eight. In contrast, the risk of being in a plane crash, or of getting involved in an affray obtain means of just slightly above four. An exploratory factor analysis of the principal components was performed on the 25 items using a varimax rotation, to reveal underlying response patterns. Results, presented in Table 2, show that a 6-factor solution was obtained, indicating logical groupings of risks, and explaining 69.94% of the total variance. The first factor, which explains 19.79% of the variance and as such is the most important to determine the structure of the responses, groups the five items related to skiing within ski resort boundaries (crashes against objects, accidents accessing ski lifts, etc.). The second component groups the five risks related to transportation (chairlift, car accident, etc.). The third component covers the four aspects related to the risk of natural hazards (avalanches, rock fall etc.). The fourth component refers to risks related to the infrastructures of the destination, such as blocked roads or electric power outages. The fifth component includes the four items that describe unsafe accommodation, due to fire or food poisoning. Lastly, the sixth component refers to public safety risks that could lower the attraction of the destination, such as theft or affray. After determining, at an exploratory level, the underlying structure of the proposed items, a reliability analysis was carried out on the corresponding scales by calculating Cronbach’s alpha coefficients and the existing correlation in the sixth component, which groups two of the items. Table 3 shows the values of the coefficients, which verify the reliability of the scales (Nunnally, 1987; Hair, Anderson, Tatham & Black, 1999). The results so far obtained allowed us to perform a regression analysis to determine whether the dimensions detected significantly affect perceptions of personal safety when considering whether to visit the snow destination, measured by the dependent variable: “Visiting the Spanish Pyrenees is risky”. The results obtained, presented in Table 4, show the significance of the components Skiing (F1), Accommodation (F5) and Public Safety (F6), giving an adjusted R² of 21%. Accordingly, we can conclude that potential skiing accidents within ski resort boundaries, domestic accidents, and aspects that threaten public safety have an important bearing on the perception of the risk of going skiing in the Spanish Pyrenees. 3.2 Actual facts In order to compare subjective estimates with actual occurrences, data reflecting the incidence of typical risks in the area of the Spanish Pyrenees were obtained. For example, the data provided by ski resort medical services on skiing accident risk (CETURSA, 2008) report an accident injury rate of between 0.3% and 0.4%. According to data compiled by Carús (2009) on cases of ski accidents occurring within ski resort boundaries reaching the Spanish courts between 1995 and 2008 (Table 5), five people died, a mean of 0.36 per year, and eight were seriously injured suffering permanent disabilities, for which the severity of damages was assessed according to the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS). The most frequent causes of accident with the most serious outcomes were “collision between skiers” and “lone skier falls”, respectively. However, the “Statistics of Mortality Caused by Accidents in Autonomous Regions” (Ministry of Health, 2009) for the same period (Table 6) reports a mean of no fewer than five people killed every year by avalanches while off-piste or backcountry skiing. Although these figures are important, facts such as the lower number of Spanish skiers or the limited tradition of backcountry skiing in Spain mean Spanish rates still fall a long way behind those of France, Switzerland, Italy or the United States, which have rates of 30, 22, 20 and 16, respectively (Leo & Cuchí, 2009). Other natural hazards such as thunderstorms or floods cause a mean of two deaths per year. However, the highest risk of accident for skiers lies in traveling to the Pyrenees in private vehicles. Although we do not know how many victims of these accidents were skiers traveling to and from the mountains, not only a mean of 329 people per year were killed in car accidents on the roads of the three provinces within the region of the Spanish Pyrenees (Huesca, Lérida and Tarragona), but approximately 165 were seriously injured and left with permanent disabilities (Home Office, 2009). In clear contrast, during the 14-year period considered only four people were killed in a single fatal cable car accident, and a mean of 0.84, 1.5 and 2 people per year died as a result of train, plane and bus accidents, respectively. Even accommodation, due to fire and food / beverage poisoning, with means of 7.5 and 1 deaths per year, respectively, or public safety resulting from assault, with a mean of 1.7 mortalities per year, are more likely severe risk factors than skiing within ski resort boundaries.
Summary It seems clear that the perceived risks visitors are prepared to assume influence their decision when choosing a destination, and destination success depends greatly on these perceptions. Therefore, the safety and security of visitors are determinant factors of snow destinations’ results. Though research on ski accidents and injuries is extensive, the literature review only revealed two studies that examine risk perceptions in mountain destinations, neither of which dealt with skiers’ views. The present research therefore aimed to provide insights into skiers’ perceptions of risk, by identifying factors that influence their perceptions. Results reveal that perceptions of the risks involved in visiting the snow destinations of the Spanish Pyrenees include at least six components: skiing, transportation, natural hazards, infrastructure, accommodation and public safety. Of these components, skiing, accommodation and public safety are perceived as key risk elements. However, actual figures demonstrate that skiing within ski resort boundaries is far from being the most dangerous risk factor when visiting snow destinations; indeed transportation is the most hazardous factor, due to the high rate of deaths resulting from car accidents, followed by natural hazards (the rate of skiers killed in avalanche accidents is fourteen times higher than that of skiing within ski resort boundaries), and lastly accommodation, mainly due to the number of people killed in fires.
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