June 2, 2016
On May 31, 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court held that an avalanche that occurs within the boundary of a ski resort is an “inherent danger and risk of skiing” under the Colorado Ski Safety Act. The Ski Safety Act recognizes that certain dangers and risks are inherent in the sport of skiing, “regardless of any and all reasonable safety measures which can be employed.” The Court noted the definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” in the Act specifically includes “snow conditions as they exist or may change.” By its plain meaning, this phrase encompasses an in-bounds avalanche, which is, at its core, the movement, or changing condition, of snow. As such, the Ski Safety Act precludes skiers from recovering for injuries resulting from in-bounds avalanches.
Justice Marquez, in a vigorous dissent, argued that the Court’s ruling abrogates any common law duty for ski area operators to mitigate avalanches or to issue warnings. Justice Marquez reasoned that under the majority’s ruling, a ski area operator will be immune from liability for injuries from avalanches, regardless of the circumstances.
The decision is a victory for ski resort operators in Colorado who are now clearly immune from damage awards based on avalanche related injuries or deaths. However, even with this lessened liability, there is no indication that resorts will slow down avalanche mitigation. Kelly Ladyga, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts, stated in a Denver Post article that “regardless of this [court] decision…our resorts have and will continue to go to great lengths to ensure the safety of our guests, including avalanche mitigation and appropriate terrain closures.”
The Supreme’s Court’s decision can be accessed here Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corp.
This article is intended to provide general information and, therefore, should not be treated as legal advice. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should seek the advice of a qualified attorney.
Authors: Ryan Lorch and Rudy Verner