More visitors means more rescue helicopter visits for ski area

A rise in the number of visitors to the learner-friendly slopes of Cardrona Alpine Resort has been matched by a corresponding surge in the number of skifield accidents on the mountain.

Medical evacuation statistics from the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter website show Cardrona has been visited the most times to evacuate injured people from the mountain.

The rescue helicopter has been called to Cardrona 11 times since June 24.

Cardrona head ski patroller Geoff Wayatt says medical staff at the skifield take a conservative approach to ensure patients get the most immediate care and best treatment.

This often meant the rescue helicopter was the best option, to ensure patients were transferred quickly to a place where they could get specialist care.

This was particularly important for serious accidents, such as those involving suspected head, abdominal, and spinal injuries.

Cardrona medical staff told the Otago Daily Times yesterday accident "bottlenecks" at other Wanaka skifields sometimes meant the town's ambulance service was stretched as they dealt with accident patients on other mountains.

In such instances, the rescue helicopter was called as an accepted solution to transfer patients, a doctor said.

Ski patrollers and skifield staff are merely the "first stage" of medical treatment, Mr Wayatt said. An increase in skifield visitors figures this year means there are more first-timers and novices on the ski slopes.

Skifield staff at Cardrona "never stop" asking themselves about how to improve safety, he said. Cardrona encourages skifield visitors to take safety precautions, such as wearing helmets and wrist-guards for snowboarders, and a higher percentage of people were doing this, he said.

- matthew.haggart@odt.co.nz

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