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Understanding And Assessing Risk

Being on this ski mountain in Utah really makes one think that the whole food safety issue is somewhat bizarre. People spend thousands of dollars to travel here from all over the world. They wait on lines, look forward to it for years. Some give up promising careers to become so-called “ski bums.”

Yet at every stage, there are reminders of the real dangers of skiing and snowboarding. You go to put the kids in ski school, you have to sign a release. You go to rent equipment, you have to sign a release.

You can’t get on a ski lift or a Gondola without passing a large sign — Warning: The Inherent Risk of Skiing — with a detailed account of many risks and all the things that can go wrong.

Virtually nobody reads any of these warnings so it would be wrong to say that there is some sort of rational exercise going on with people carefully weighing the risks and benefits.

And, of course, there are some people who, out of fear of injury, decline to ski or snowboard.

Yet one can’t help but think that we live in a world in which something has gone seriously awry. There seems to be not a gap but a chasm between public health standards in which regulators demand zero risk and public behavior, in which people regularly elect to engage in dangerous activities.

Could it possibly be true that people ride a machine to take them 11,000 feet above sea level, put life and limb at risk to go down a mountain in the company of others who required no license to be on the mountain and may have been inexperienced, drinking or on drugs? Then, with a couple of thin pieces of wood or composite and, perhaps, a couple of poles to guide them, zoom down the mountain hoping to avoid sides that contain trees or cliffs as well as snowboarders with a blind spot or skiers unable to control their direction.

Yet we are told that the same people who expose themselves voluntarily to this scenario quake in fear if offered a spinach salad?

Something is off-kilter in our understanding of how people assess and accept risk.

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