Skiing and the law
December 9, 2003
A new ski season has begun. Yahoo! And, as with any other hazardous activity, there are certain to be injuries. As injuries and skiing are predictable companions, so too are laws pertaining to those injuries, their causes and effects.
The “mother” of all skiing-related laws in Colorado is the Ski Safety Act of 1979. With the passage of this act, the general assembly set forth specific legal duties both for ski area operators and for the skiers themselves. Any violation of the act, which causes injury amounts to negligence is actionable within a court of law.
Duties of ski area operators include maintaining an adequate sign system and protecting and instructing passengers on gondolas and lifts. Additional duties are imposed upon the operators regarding the safe use and operation of snow grooming equipment, snowmobiles and other maintenance equipment and facilities. The ski area does not have a duty to any person skiing beyond the properly marked area boundaries; one skiing out of bounds is on his or her own.
Skiers’ duties include, preeminently, duties to other skiers. For example, a skier is under a legal duty to maintain adequate control of his or her speed and to maintain a proper lookout for other skiers. A person skiing downhill has a duty to avoid collision with any person or objects below. Additionally, ski equipment must include a braking or leash device capable of stopping a loose ski. Of course what applies to skiers applies equally to snowboarders.
Amendments to the Ski Safety Act, effective July 1, 1990, provide that ski areas will be protected from liability for injuries or death resulting from “inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” “Inherent risks” under the amendments include weather conditions, surface and subsurface conditions, natural objects, manmade objects, variations in the steepness or terrain (whether natural or as a result of slope design, snowmaking or grooming operations), roads, collisions with other skiers and the failure of the skier to ski within his or her own limits and abilities. However, not all variations in steepness or terrain that a skier may encounter are necessarily “inherent risks” and, if any injury results, negligence on the part of the operator may be found.
In 1990, the definition of a “skier” was expanded to include anyone who makes use of the facilities of a ski area as well as the ski slopes themselves. Under this expanded definition, bobsled runs, summer toboggan runs and even ski area parking lots may now be subject to the act.
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Ski area operators are required to post warning signs at various locations around the ski area and the warnings must be in specific language. Additionally, ski lift tickets are required to contain the same warning language. While the act allows ski areas to retain language to the effect that the operator may revoke a reckless or careless skier’s skiing privileges, the operator is under no affirmative duty to do so, either for the protection of the reckless skier or other skiers.
In 1990, the Colorado legislature capped the potential liability exposure of a ski area to one million dollars present value. It also expanded the statutory immunity for anyone who is a volunteer member of a ski patrol who in good faith renders emergency care at the cite of an injury or accident, thus making it more difficult to sue an unpaid good Samaritan.
Under Colorado law, a skier assumes the risk of injury resulting from the inherent risks of skiing. The skier may not recover from the area operator or owner for injuries occasioned by such risks. Each skier solely has the responsibility for knowing the range of his or her own ability and to maintain him or herself within the limits of those abilities. If a skier injures another skier, that skier (and not the ski area) assumes the risk and all legal responsibility for the injury to the other person. Likewise, unless the ski area operator has violated a substantive provision of the act, the skier, and not the ski area, is responsible for whatever injury he or she may cause him or herself.
It’s a wet and slippery jungle out there. Ski safely.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be reached at 970/926.4461 or at his e-mail address: email@example.com