Court: Avalanches on open runs at Colorado ski resorts are inherent danger
The Denver Post
Avalanches within the boundaries of open runs at Colorado ski resorts are an inherent danger of skiing, barring claims from those who die or are injured on the slopes, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision Thursday.
Although the state's ski safety act — which spells out responsibilities for skiers and snowboarders and grants immunity for ski operators from "inherent dangers" of the sport — did not specifically refer to avalanches, changing snow and weather conditions are included.
"An avalanche is itself a danger resulting from certain conditions of snow, and the degree of danger is affected by 'changing weather conditions' across 'variations of steepness and terrain,' the majority wrote. "We thus construe the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing . . . to include an avalanche."
The ruling follows increased avalanche warnings in the state and the death of two people who died in backcountry avalanches.
The case is expected to be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The wrongful death suit was brought by the wife of Christopher Norris, a 28-year-old father of two, who died in an inbounds avalanche in Winter Park's Trestle Trees in 2012. The morning of the day he died, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center warned of "widespread dangerous avalanche conditions" and recommended that skiers and snowboarders "enjoy the powder in the safety of the ski area."
His wife, Salyndra Fleury, argued that the ski area was aware of danger warnings and "knew or should have known" that the tree area was unsafe. But Grand County District Court Judge Mary C. Hoak ruled the resort wasn't required to post warning signs or close the run. Avalanches, she said, are an inherent danger of skiing. The appellate court upheld her decision.
Winter Park representatives declined to comment.
Fleury's attorney James Heckbert said his client is "disappointed" with the ruling, but finds "encouragement in the opinion of the dissenting judge " Jerry Jones.
"It is not as if avalanches are unheard of occurrences in mountainous areas, or even on or near ski areas," Jones wrote. "And yet the General Assembly — despite formulating a lengthy definition identifying numerous specific conditions and events — did not expressly (or otherwise clearly) include avalanches."
Karen E. Crummy: 303-954-1594, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/karencrummy
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