Avalanche is an inherent risk of skiing, Colorado Supreme Court rules in Winter Park death case

Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
Skiers at Winter Park on Corona Pass on Sunday, July 13, 2014.
Kent Nishimura | THE DENVER POST

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing, ending a contentious debate over a ski area’s liability when an avalanche kills a skier inside a resort boundary.

The Colorado ski industry celebrated the high court’s decision, which was delivered Tuesday morning. The court ruled that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing and resorts are protected from avalanche-related lawsuits under the venerable Ski Safety Act legislation, which prohibits lawsuits by skiers and snowboarders injured or killed as a result of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing, such as difficult-to-mitigate threats related to terrain, weather and snow conditions.

Attorneys for the family of Christopher Norris, who died in an in-bounds avalanche at Winter Park ski area in January 2012, argued that the resort was responsible for his death because avalanches were not specifically noted in the Ski Safety Act, which was created in 1979 and amended in 1990 and 2004. Norris’ wife, Salyndra Fleury, argued the ski area knew that avalanche danger was high that day — a teenager skier died in a slide on Vail Mountain the same day — and should have closed terrain. She was seeking damages in excess of the $250,000 allowed by the Ski Safety Act.

The ski industry argued that the act’s specific descriptions of variable snow conditions, terrain steepness and changing weather were all elements that created avalanche danger, so avalanches fall under the act’s list of inherent dangers and risks.

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