Colorado has an apparent number of quality ski resorts. There are many risks to skiing and snowboarding that are known to those who enjoy these winter sports and those who own and operate the resorts that people often perform them on. These risks do occasionally result in fatalities that leave families in mourning, searching for the reason that their loved ones were taken away. Often, ski resorts are targeted for the blame, as they were in two wrongful death suits that may test the limits of immunity that resorts believe they legally have.
The first case involved the death of a 19-year-old who was skiing in the Howelsen Hill ski area, which is operated by Steamboat Springs, Col., in March 2011. A permanently closed portion of the area was not roped off properly, according to the suit. But Steamboat Springs cited the Colorado Ski Safety Act. According to the Ski Safety Act, there are inherent risks of skiing that resort-operators cannot be held responsible for. The judge presiding over the case said that this was a matter of improper closure of an area, not an inherent risk as defined by law. Steamboat Springs also tried to cite the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act – this did not succeed either.
In the second suit, a 13-year-old was killed during an inbound avalanche that occurred in January 2012 at the Vail ski area. Vail Resorts attempted to have the wrongful death suit dismissed through the Ski Safety Act. According to the defense, an avalanche is an inherent danger of skiing, but the presiding judge said that the 1979 law does not list avalanches explicitly. According to the judge, the people who created the law would have noted avalanches in the language had they considered it an inherent risk of skiing.
According to an attorney for the family involved in this case, immunity breeds irresponsibility and responsible entities must deal with the consequences of their conduct.
Source: Steamboat Today, “Court decisions could test resort liability, Colorado Ski Safety Act,” jason Blevins, Feb. 26, 2013