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Vail, Winter Park sued over inbounds avalanche deaths

Lawsuits allege resorts were negligent in managing terrain

A Google Earth view shows the location of the two gates on Prima Cornice. IMAGE COURTESY GOOGLE EARTH/CAIC.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Steamboat Springs-based attorney Jim Heckbert says Vail and Winter Park ski areas were negligent last winter when they failed to close or adequately sign avalanche-prone terrain within their operational boundaries — and that their negligence resulted in the death of Taft Conlin at Vail and Christopher Norris at Winter Park.

The lawsuits may hinge on very specific legal language in the Colorado Ski Safety Act, but the outcome could have larger implications for the sport, as a verdict favoring the plaintiffs could affect the way ski resorts manage internal closures, which, in turn, could affect access to public lands.

In the Winter Park lawsuit, filed in Grand County District Court, Heckbert alleges that Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation, through its employees,was negligent in disregarding forecasts and warnings regarding high avalanche danger existing within the boundaries of the ski area, and negligent in not closing the area or warning skiers of the danger. Continue reading

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Colorado: Forest Service to review ski area avalanches

Director of National Avalanche Center sees trend of more inbounds and sidecountry accidents

Colorado avalanche Copper Mountain

A spring wet snow avalanche in the Tenmile Range near Copper Mountain, Colorado.

The avalanche danger in the Colorado backcountry is still rated as considerable, with triggered slides likely in many areas.

By Bob Berwyn

VAIL — A U.S. Forest Service review of two recent inbounds avalanche deaths at Colorado ski areas will be aimed at determining whether the resorts followed all required snow safety procedures required under their permits, and whether any changes are needed, according to Eagle/Holy Cross district ranger Dave Neely.

Christopher Norris, 28, of Evergreen was killed by a slide Sunday afternoon (Jan. 22) on the Mary Jane side of Winter Park Resort, and 13-year-old Taft Conlin of Eagle died the same day in avalanche on a closed slope at Vail Mountain.

“It’s our responsibility to oversee the operations of ski areas on public lands,” said Ken Kowynia, the agency’s winter sports program administrator in the Rocky Mountain region. Continue reading

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