Court Rules Colorado Ski Resorts Not Liable for Avalanches
PHOTO: Telluride, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock).
Skiers and snowboarders hitting Colorado slopes under threat of avalanche must do so at their own risk.
This week the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that avalanches are one of the inherent dangers of skiing and therefore ski resorts in the state can't be held liable for injuries or death that result.
The 5-2 ruling comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by Salynda Fleury, whose husband Christopher Norris was killed in an avalanche at Colorado's Winter Park ski area in January 2012.
Fleury sued resort operator IntraWest for negligence and wrongful death.
Nonetheless the court sided with the state's ski industry, pointing to Colorado's Ski Safety Act.
Enacted in 1979, the act essentially screens resort operators from liability in the event that the death or injury of skiers and snowboarders can be attributed to threats such as terrain and weather.
The act also limits damages awarded by operators to $250,000.
"The Colorado Supreme Court holds that an avalanche that occurs within the bounds of a ski resort qualifies as an 'inherent danger and risk of skiing' under the Ski Safety Act of 1979," the court's decision read. "The definition of 'inherent dangers and risks of skiing' specifically includes 'snow conditions as they exist or may change.' By its plain meaning, this phrase encompasses an in-bounds avalanche, which is, at its core, the movement, or changing condition, of snow."
In her dissent of the ruling, Justice Monica Marquez argued that "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."
Interestingly, Marquez's 11-page dissent is longer than the majority opinion.
The dissent, which was joined by Justice Richard Gabriel, also points out that as recently as last year Montana's ski law was changed to say that avalanches do not qualify as inherent dangers.
Although Mother Nature is unpredictable, Vice President of the Avalanche Rescue Commission for the International Commission on Alpine Rescue Dale Atkins said "resorts do a phenomenal job with avalanche mitigation, given how few fatalities there have been," in a statement via the Denver Post.
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