The Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled that avalanches that occur within the boundaries of Colorado ski areas are an inherent danger of the skiing and snowboarding experience, effectively protecting the state’s ski areas from lawsuits arising from injuries or even death that may result from being caught in an inbounds avalanche. The Court’s ruling in this case was based on an avalanche that occurred on an open, otherwise “controlled” run at Winter Park. While the Colorado Ski Safety Act specifically lists changing snow and weather conditions as an “inherent danger” of skiing and snowboarding at a ski area, this is the first time that definition has been specifically deemed to include inbounds avalanches at the appellate court level.
Intrawest (operator of Winter Park), was sued on theories of wrongful death and negligence by the wife and children of Christopher Norris, the individual who died in the avalanche. The Plaintiffs alleged that Winter Park knew the avalanche danger was high on the day that Norris was killed, and that it should have closed the run, or specifically warned Norris of the heightened risk of avalanches. The appellate court disagreed, finding that because avalanches were an inherent risk of skiing at a resort, that Winter Park had no duty to close the run or warn the decedent. The Court noted that its construction of the ski safety statute to include avalanches as an inherent risk of skiing “is fully consistent with the legislative recognition that, regardless of all reasonable safety measures a ski area operator may employ, skiing is fraught with dangers.”
The ruling may impact a wrongful death suit brought against Vail in 2013. The Vail case made headlines following the 2012 death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin, who was caught in an inbounds avalanche on the Prima Cornice run. Colin had entered the lower part the run – although the top entrances were closed due to avalanche danger, the lower gate was open.
The case may be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
See the entire opinion here: