Local man files lawsuit against Krabloonik after getting run over by dogsled

Plaintiff seeks damages, changes in operation’s safety protocols

A longtime local filed a lawsuit against Krabloonik after an accident on Slot Trail in Snowmass. He is seeking compensation for damages and requesting refinements to the operation’s safety protocols. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Snowmass resident Scott Gilbert and his wife, Jeanette, were skiing on the Slot trail at Snowmass Resort on Feb. 22, 2020, when they decided while on the chairlift to pull over on their next run and watch a dogsled travel by. It was a decision that would soon lead to one of the worst days of their lives.

The Gilberts stopped on the left side of Lower Slot below a catwalk that is used by the dogsleds from Krabloonik Kennels, a longtime Snowmass Village business that operates on the lower Campground section of Snowmass ski area as part of their route.

Scott said he positioned himself below the catwalk, a road covered with snow, so he could see the dogs after departing Krabloonik. His wife skied about 25 feet below him. The catwalk crosses the open ski run and continues into the woods on the far side, above where the Gilberts were located.

Scott Gilbert said he was caught off guard when the sled pulled by eight dogs attempted to execute a U-turn that put him in the line of travel. Instead of staying on the catwalk, the dogs, sled and mushers veered downslope, straight at him.

“I was just standing there and got obliterated,” Gilbert said. “It happened so fast there was no way I could get out of the way.”

Gilbert was “clotheslined” by the rope that connects the dogs and the team to the sled, according to a lawsuit filed in Pitkin County District Court on April 13. The sled’s runners ran over Gilbert’s green ski helmet and the sled, carrying two passengers, stopped on his chest.

Gilbert, then 66, was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion, fractured sternum, cardiac contusion and cervical spine strain from the whiplash, the lawsuit said.

“He felt like he had been ‘hit with a baseball bat in full swing’ trying to ‘knock his head off his shoulders,'” the lawsuit said.

Gilbert’s wife hiked up the slope and untangled him from the ropes on the dogsled. A passenger in the dogsled released the bindings on Gilbert’s skis.

“The mushers seemed unconcerned for Gilbert’s health,” the lawsuit said. “They did not apologize to Plaintiffs and showed zero remorse or compassion.”

The mushers didn’t wait at the scene to assist Gilbert until the ski patrol arrived and “(Jeanette) Gilbert felt like it was a hit and run, as she told ski patrol,” the lawsuit said.

Krabloonik owner Danny Phillips did not respond to requests seeking comment about the incident from The Aspen Times by email and phone message.

The lawsuit seeks financial damages in an amount to be proven at trial as well as interest from the date of the incident and attorney’s fees. Gilbert has incurred about $41,000 in medical expenses, the lawsuit said.

Gilbert said he wants to see refinements in Krabloonik’s operation to avoid another accident.

“If that had been my grandson, not me, who was smashed into by the dogsled that day, we might be having a very different conversation about his impairment for life or being killed,” Gilbert said. “It was a vicious and powerful collision that I will never forget. I don’t want anyone else to experience that.”

His lawsuit, filed by Aspen attorney Michele Bass, identified what it alleges to be safety shortcomings in Krabloonik’s operation. They included the mushers losing control of the dog team, the team running too fast and inadequate signage warning skiers and riders of the potential danger on the slopes.

“Krabloonik mushers lost control over the dogs and stated that they ‘could not stop, slow down, or steer’ and ‘let go’ of the lead dogs who then ‘clotheslined’ Gilbert and the dogsled ran over him,” the lawsuit said.

Jeanette Gilbert told the Snowmass Ski Patrol during its investigation that her initial thought when she saw the dogsled coming at them was it was going too fast and out of control. She said the musher holding the lead dog was unable to keep up with the canine despite “running so fast that his feet barely touched the ground.”

The lawsuit noted there was a single “small” yellow sign in the shape of a diamond at the top of the catwalk that says, “Caution Dog Sled Crossing.” That sign fails to adequately warn skiers and riders of the danger and risk of encountering a commercial dogsled operation on the open ski run, the lawsuit claims.

“Turning the dogsled downhill onto the open ski run is even more dangerous and much different than ‘crossing’ it to go into the ‘backcountry’ as Krabloonik widely advertises as the location of its tours,” the lawsuit said.

The mushers claimed they had yelled at Gilbert to get out of the way; the Gilberts said they didn’t hear anything, the lawsuit said.

The appropriate protocol, the suit continued, is for mushers intending to make the U-turn to slow down and stop, look for skiers, the slowly complete the maneuver while in control — especially on a black diamond ski trail with a steep pitch.

“Krabloonik must improve its ‘culture of safety’ surrounding its operation on public lands and operate without endangering the public,” the lawsuit said.

Prior lawsuits have been filed against Krabloonik by customers who were allegedly injured while riding in the dogsled. Two members of a family who claimed they were injured when the musher fell off the sled and it crashed into a tree filed one lawsuit in March.

(Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct that Krabloonik operates on private land rather than national forest.)