Vail Daily Editor and Publisher Don Rogers: Tragedy’s legacy: Litigation |

Vail Daily Editor and Publisher Don Rogers: Tragedy’s legacy: Litigation

Don Rogers
Vail, CO, Colorado

The avalanche that killed young Taft Conlin was terrible enough.

The aftermath promises to prolong the pain in an effort to apply lessons learned from the tragedy Jan. 22 on the front side of Vail Mountain, on the closed Upper Prima Cornice run.

Taft, 13, and a pack of other boys sidestepped from the open Lower Prima gate 120 feet into the danger zone. But they ducked no ropes to get there, and they report following a path in.

Authorities have declared that the ski company broke no rules and didn’t do anything wrong in its oversight of the mountain.

I’m sure they are right, but not so certain that’s the point.

Vail Resorts leaders naturally have parsed their words extremely carefully, which is understandable but led inexorably to the lawsuit the family recently filed.

A good, frank discussion – free of the attorneys – and commitment to some simple measures to improve in-bounds safety in the future might have kept this out of court.

Instead, practical legal advice to say as little as possible, admit nothing and carry on business as usual speaks to that bloodless body that’s become a modern archetype. And paved the way to litigation, depositions, perhaps even a trial.

Bloodless is part of the strict definition of a corporation, of course, but I know the actual people at Vail Resorts are not that way at all. They feel, as we all do, terrible about Taft’s tragedy and especially for his family and friends who miss him so.

So I blame the lawyers, who are only doing their duty to mitigate the liability of their client. I blame our society that has devolved to a point that conversations that should happen as a matter of course too often wind up in courtrooms.

I understand that institutionally, trust is a wild card, and careful players must stick as closely as possible to the knowns. And so, Vail Resorts took the careful, conventional path to frankly the worst result.

They’ll likely prevail if this litigation winds up in a trial. But even so, the damage will be done with the public. How can it be otherwise with our modern parables?

I think this time Vail Resorts let their lawyers lead them astray while toeing the proper legal line. We have a similar drill when we face something potentially litigious. Nearly all companies do. It’s just prudent when some people view a lawsuit as a lottery jackpot.

Still, I dream of this settlement: Remove money considerations and have that real conversation and commitment to safety improvements.

Let there be some lining of good in Taft’s legacy.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at or 970-748-2920.

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