Report clears Vail Resorts in death of teen skier in avalanche
More than four months after 13-year-old skier Taft Conlin was killed in an avalanche on Vail Mountain, the White River National Forest has released an incident report saying the resort complied with its operating procedures.
Despite these findings, Taft's mother, Dr. Louise Ingalls, said she's "confounded and saddened" that neither Vail Resorts nor the U.S. Forest Service would agree to make changes that could prevent a similar accident.
Conlin and two of his friends were skiing the Prima Cornice area on Jan. 22 when they were caught in the avalanche.
Although the upper Prima Cornice area's gate indicated that the run was closed, the lower gate — through which Conlin and his friends entered — was open. From there, the three hiked up the side of the run. They started skiing down but were caught in the avalanche.
The snow carried Conlin into a spruce forest, where he was found buried and resting against a tree. He had died of blows to the chest, said Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis.
"He (Taft) was a responsible skier. He entered the run through an open gate," Ingalls said. "Vail Resorts claims the boys skied into a closed area, but they left the door open. There are rules about properly closing a ski run. Vail Resorts didn't follow those rules."
Taft's family — and the parents of a boy Taft was skiing with that day — released a statement about how disappointed they were by the Forest Service's incident review, which only addressed whether Vail Resorts was abiding by the parameters of its Forest Service permit.
But, according to Scott Fitzwilliams, the forest supervisor who completed the report, it wasn't designed to "determine fault or blame."
Fitzwilliams said since he didn't find the resort in violation of its permit, it would not be normal procedure to continue looking into the accident.
As for changes being made on the mountain, Fitzwilliams said that, while Vail Resorts and the Forest Service didn't commit to making changes, that doesn't mean they can't still happen.
According to him, putting every rope and sign specification in the operating plan for more than 43,000 acres and 11 ski areas would be impossible.
Instead, the ski safety professionals on the mountain are responsible for making those individual decisions based on that day.
"At the beginning of every ski season, they'll go out and look at suggestions from the ski area. We'll look at all different things. Certainly we'll talk about this incident," Fitzwilliams said.
"Because we found no non-compliance (issues), that doesn't mean we don't make changes. We do every single year."
But Ingalls said not committing to any changes in the report sends the wrong message.
"We were so hopeful that something might come out of it and, in this (the White River National Forest) review, they're basically saying that they're not willing to make any changes or investigate my son's death," she said.
"When you lose a child, everything in your world irrevocably shifts, and I mean everything. I miss him so much," she said.
"I don't know what the next steps are going to be."
Read more:Report clears Vail Resorts in death of teen skier in avalanche - The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_20770196/report-clears-vail-resorts-death-teen-skier-avalanche#ixzz1wkvajubC