Avalanches “inherent danger of skiing”

2nd June 2016, by Abi Butcher

the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that avalanches are among the “inherent dangers of skiing”

the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that avalanches are among the “inherent dangers of skiing”

Ski resorts in Colorado will from this week not be held liable for skiers killed by avalanches while within a resort’s boundary.

On Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that avalanches are among the “inherent dangers of skiing” in resorts throughout the state, following a lawsuit brought by the widow of a skier killed in a slide in 2012.

Salynda Fleury brought a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against resort operator IntraWest after the death of her husband, 28-year-old Christopher Norris, in Winter Park ski resort. Mrs Fleury’s lawyers claimed Intrawest should have closed the run on which Mr Norris was skiing when he died, because the avalanche danger was high.

In the US, ski resorts have an entire ski boundary that is avalanche controlled on a daily basis (referred to as ‘inbounds skiing’) — whereas Europe controls the pistes and any slopes above that may avalanche onto skiers sticking to marked routes.

Whether or not the ski area within a boundary line is safe is subject to some debate in the US. Last year, the law in Montana was changed to say that avalanches do not qualify as inherent dangers, and Alaska ski operators can be held liable if they do not adhere to their avalanche-control plans.

Mrs Fleury’s lawyers argued that resorts in Colorado should be held liable for slides that take place with their boundaries. They said no signs were posted to warn skiers of the avalanche risk, adding: “the ski area operators are intimately familiar where [avalanches] occur.”

Colorado’s Ski Safety Act (1979) limits the state’s ski industry (worth some $3billion a year) to $250,000 in damages from lawsuits filed by the family of those killed — and while avalanches have not been named specifically, the potential dangers listed that skiers assume the risk for include ice, packed powder, cliffs and trees.

The law does include “snow conditions as they exist or may change”, and on Tuesday, Colorado’s top court ruled that this wording includes avalanches.

However, delivering the verdict, Justice Monica Marquez added: “Under today’s holding, even a family of novice skiers traversing the mountain must be expected to look uphill, gauge the steepness of the slope, the quantity of fresh snow, and the multitude of factors that avalanche forecasters consider, and assume the risk of being swept away by an avalanche.”

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