I guess I can't say I'm surprised.... I can say I disagree vehemently with the part I bolded. I hope and pray they are not successful, because in-bounds skiing will get very boring if they are. Might already.
Family Sues Intrawest Over Skier's Death in Winter Park Avalanche
The wife of a skier killed in a January avalanche inside the Winter Park ski area has filed a wrongful death suit targeting the Denver-owned ski area's operator, Intrawest.
"It is up to the people who are running the ski area to either rope off the area or make sure it's safe," said attorney Michael Burg, whose Burg Simpson firm is representing Norris' widow, Salyndra Fleury. "A family goes up skiing and they have no idea there is a potential to be killed by an avalanche. That's ridiculous. This is gross negligence."
Intrawest declined to comment.
Avalanche danger was high on Sunday, Jan. 22. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center that morning cited high winds and heavy snow when issuing an avalanche forecast warning of "widespread dangerous avalanche conditions.""Triggering avalanches remotely and from low angle or even flat terrain is likely," read the Jan. 22 forecast. "Be very wary near or below any avalanche terrain, and keep in mind that even small slides can bury and kill you."
It's unlikely 28-year-old Norris, father of a 3-year-old and 4-month-old, checked in on the forecast that morning before heading up to Mary Jane with his father-in-law. Even if he did, the forecast urged skiers to "enjoy the powder in the safety of the ski area."
Ski patrollers had ski cut the densely timbered slopes inside Trestle Trees, an expert area that had yet to see much traffic in the slow-to-start season. A picture in the subsequent CAIC avalanche report showed patroller's avalanche-mitigating tracks criss-crossing the slope above Norris tracks.
The report surmised that Norris had traversed beneath the slope on low-angle terrain beneath a rock outcrop and triggered a 40-foot wide slide that ran a mere 30 vertical feet. It was a very small slide. But it was enough to bury Norris. After his father-in-law reported him missing, patrollers found him at sunset, buried facing downhill in three feet of snow, with only his gloved hand visible above the debris.
The lawsuit argues that patrollers "knew or should have known" the Trestle Trees area "was not safe for skiers under the existing conditions and under the forecasts and warnings," arguing that Intrawest "had a duty to close those areas within its boundary which it knew or should have known posed an avalanche hazard to skiers."
Norris was not the only person to die in an inbounds avalanche that day. Taft Conlin, a 13-year-old expert skier from Eagle was killed while skiing in a closed section of Vail Mountain. Two other skiers were caught in the slide, but Conlin, a beloved local, suffered chest injuries as he was thrown through the steep trees. Norris and Conlin's deaths marked the second and third inbounds avalanche fatalities in Colorado since 2005.
Burg said his firm has "had discussions" but has not been retained by the Conlin family.
Colorado's industry standard Ski Safety Act limits a resort's liability in lawsuits filed by family of those killed to $250,000. That cap has been tested many times since the legislation was enacted in 1979, but no jury or court ever has awarded injured skiers or bereaved families more than $250,000. (In fact, Burg Simpson attorney James Heckbert, who is representing Norris' family, unsuccessfully challenged the act's liability cap before the Colorado Supreme Court in 2007 in a case that involved an employee-driven snowmobile that collided with a ski racer, killing 13-year-old Ashley Stamp in 2006 on Vail Mountain.)
"We intend to make this a test case. We recognize it's an uphill battle," Burg said. "It's like getting on a roller coaster that flies off the track and the operator says they are not responsible. That's crazy."
Burg said his firm is in discussions with victims of the North Fork Fire, a state-managed prescribed burn that raged beyond control in late March, torching 23 homes across 4,000 acres and killing three people. State law caps settlement for losses at $600,000 per incident but lawmakers, following the March wildfire recently approved legislation that removes state immunity from lawsuits involving prescribed burns.
"Why should the government or a ski area not have the same responsibilities as individuals? Everyone — including the government — is telling us we all need to be held responsible and accountable for our actions. By giving immunity, all we do is encourage the government and ski areas to be grossly negligent."
Burg said if the lawsuit against Intrawest fails, he intends to push for either a petition or legislation that challenges the Ski Safety Act's limitation of liability.