Right of Way on the Bunny Slopes: Ski Area Liability in Colorado

Right of Way on the Bunny Slopes: Ski Area Liability in Colorado

With record highs in our weather, skiing is the furthest thing from many Coloradoans’ minds. Golf, tubing, and various summer sports have taken a distinct front seat in the minds of many residents of our great state. However, as the season wanes and the mountains beckon, it stands to reason that soon, the slopes will be open and skiing and snowboarding will resume. This begs the often-unanswered question of liability. If a skier or snowboarder is injured on the slopes, what kind of damages can he or she claim? Are there any state presumptions that legally govern the way insurance companies and courts will look at injury claims? Does it matter how the skier or snowboarder was injured?
To begin with, as with any potentially dangerous activity, there are risks of injury that the skier or snowboarder assumes just by participating in the activity. Next time you buy a lift pass, turn it around to read the fine print. Outlined there are all the rights users of ski slopes waive just by getting out into the powder and there are many. A recent Colorado Supreme Court decision, for example, indicates that in-bounds avalanches are an inherent danger of skiing, which means there are limitations to the amount of medical bills and pain and suffering damages the ski area’s insurance has to cover per incident. Additional inherent dangers are snow, surface conditions, collisions with manmade and natural objects, skier collisions, and skiers’ failure to ski within their ability, as well as ravines, per Graven v. Vail Associates, Inc.
Ski areas in Colorado have a history of protecting their interests, like any large business. An old Colorado case called Pizza v. Wolf Creek Ski Development Corp. created a rebuttable presumption that a ski accident is a skier’s fault. This means lawyers who take ski area cases are fighting an uphill battle, forgive the pun, against the weight of presumptions heavily in favor of the ski area. So what can skiers and snowboarders who want to participate in some of the most popular activities that draw people to Colorado do, short of keeping off the slopes altogether? Are there any protections for innocent victims of reckless skiers or negligent ski area attendants?
The Colorado Ski Safety Act, accepted in 1979 and updated in 1985, certainly weighs in favor of ski areas. However, courts have carved out right-of-way presumptions and various protections for skiers and snowboarders throughout the years. Ski area operators, through the act, have statutory duties to mark trails, boundaries, and the difficulty level of trails and slopes. Objects that are invisible from 100 feet should be padded. Cases where downhill skiing accidents involve hazards that could’ve been mitigated by ski area operators’ ordinary action that create a sudden emergency or unmarked danger to skiers and snowboarders also are not generally considered inherent dangers of skiing. Finally, as with road ways, there are right-of-way presumptions on ski slopes. If an uphill skier or snowboarder collides with one who is downhill, the presumption of negligence rests with the uphill skier. Ski areas generally factor in the proficiency level of both skiers, so professionals are held to the standard of a professional.
Not all cases of physical altercations in a ski area are necessarily covered by the ski area’s insurance. A skier-skier collision, for example, will likely not involve the ski area at all, since the skier collision is an inherent danger of the activity. If a skier or snowboarder suffers injuries from a collision with another user of the ski area, there may be a way to recover medical and pain and suffering expenses from the at-fault skier. There may also be a criminal case, depending on if one skier intends to hurt the other through their actions.
Larson & Larimer have decades of experience fighting for the rights of individuals and their loved ones who were injured by the negligence of others. We have helped many of our clients fight and win ski area liability cases. If you or someone you know has experienced these sorts of catastrophic injuries and you fear no one can help, please contact Larson & Larimer at (303)221-0039 to schedule your free consultation.

Sources: Colorado Ski Safety Act; James H. Chalet “Colorado Ski Law” 27-FEB Colo. Law. 5.