Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Colorado Supreme Court Rules Avalanches are an Inherent danger of Skiing

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing and fall under the state’s liability-limiting Ski Safety Act. In a 5-2 decision, the court agreed that avalanches result from changing snow conditions, changing weather, and variations of steepness and terrain, all of which are specifically noted in the Ski Safety Act.
The Ski Safety Act was created in 1979 and amended in 1990 and 2004. In the court’s decision, it cited the snow conditions clause in the act. "The phrase ‘snow conditions as they exist or may change’ encompasses avalanches that occur within the bounds of a ski resort. The statute also contemplates that the snow conditions ‘may change.’ One obvious way in which a snow condition ‘may change’ is through the movement of the snow, including by wind and gravity. And at its core, an avalanche is moving snow caused by gravity".

The decision stemmed from a suit brought against Winter Park Resort following the death of Christopher Norris, who died in an in-bounds avalanche at Winter Park ski area on Jan. 22, 2012.
Attorneys for the family had argued that the resort was responsible for his death because avalanches are not specifically noted in the Ski Safety Act. The family of the deceased argued that the area knew avalanche danger was high, and should have closed the terrain. The family was seeking damages above the $250,000 limit set by the Act.
The National Ski Areas Association said the few avalanche deaths at resort areas amount to one fatality per 100 million skier visits, or about one death every two seasons.
Since 2000, only 11 of the 448 avalanche deaths in the U.S. have occurred inside a resort boundary.
"Resorts do a phenomenal job with avalanche mitigation, given how few fatalities there have been", said Dale Atkins, Vice President of the Avalanche Rescue Commission for the International Commission on Alpine Rescue, in a statement released by the association.
Even with resorts employing more training and avalanche safety procedures at resorts, the statement said, "individual, personal responsibility remains the most effective tool in avalanche precaution and preparedness". The ski areas association urged skiers to ride with a partner, obey terrain closures and carry avalanche equipment in steep terrain.
Colorado Ski Country President Melanie Mills said the court’s ruling recognizes how hard resorts work to reduce the risk of uncontrolled slides at a ski area and the court’s decision will not alter that work.
"In our industry we have long believed that avalanches are inherent risks of the sport, and we have continued throughout our history to do a great deal of work to mitigate that risk. But the risk can’t be eliminated", Mills said.

No comments: