Colorado courts grappling with inbounds avalanche deaths

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Looking toward the area on Prima Cornice where the avalanche started. Photo courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Click on the photo to read the full CAIC report on the slide.

One case dismissed as another heads toward jury trial: outcome could hinge on interpretation of Colorado Ski Safety Act’s ‘inherent risks of skiing’ definition

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Two Colorado judges have reached dramatically different conclusions about a pair of inbounds avalanche deaths that occurred on the same day at Winter Park and Vail ski areas last season.

Both Colorado skiers died Jan. 22, 2012, after one of last season’s first big snowstorms dumped fresh powder atop a rotten base layer, leading to dangerous avalanche conditions across the state.

In early December, Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy rejected arguments by Vail Resorts attorneys that the avalanche that killed teenager Taft Conlin on the Prima Cornice trail at Vail Ski Area was an inherent risk of skiing, as defined by the Colorado Ski Safety Act.

In late December, Grand County District Court Judge Mary Hoak dismissed a similar lawsuit against Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation in the death of Christopher Norris, who was also killed by an avalanche while skiing an inbounds area at Winter Park.

Hoak ruled concluded “that the inbounds avalanche falls squarely within the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Read the court order here. Continue reading

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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