FRISCO — Most skiers probably don't expect to encounter an avalanche when they're skiing inbounds at Colorado ski areas like Copper Mountain, Breckenridge or Vail. But last year, in two separate accidents, two skiers were killed by snow slides, one at Vail and one at Winter Park. Photo courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Both ski areas have been sued by Steamboat Springs-based lawyer Jim Heckbert, who says, there is no evidence or law that a skier ‘reasonably expects’ to encounter an avalanche ... within a ski area boundary.
In the Vail accident, the victim entered the Prima Cornice trail through an open gate, then climbed uphill into an area described by the resort as closed. In the Winter Park avalanche, the victim was skiing in an area of steep, tight trees that was not closed.
In the past few weeks, two Colorado judges have made dramatically different determinations in the two cases. A Grand County judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that avalanches fall "squarely within" the inherent risks of skiing as defined by the Colorado Ski Safety Act.
A Broomfield County judge, however, ruled that the law isn't unequivocally clear and will let the lawsuit proceed to trial.
Both 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.
Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court may revisit the Colorado Ski Safety Act, determining whether lawmakers meant to include avalanches as one of the inherent dangers of skiing at a Colorado resort.