Most states have laws which protect ski areas against claims arising from the inherent dangers of downhill skiing and snowboarding. However, these states allow claims against ski area operators for injuries caused by those hazards which are not “inherent dangers.” These would include open excavations, parked heavy machinery around a blind corner, collisions with moving equipment which is the fault of the operator’s employee. And most states require minimal safety standards for the operation of the ski areas, which if specifically violated, provide the basis of a negligence claim against a ski area operator for a downhill skiing/snowboarding accident.
Within most ski states, ski area operators are responsible for injuries caused by those hazards which are not “inherent dangers.” These would include open excavations, parked heavy machinery around a blind corner, and collisions with moving equipment which is the fault of the resort’s employee. The snow equipment used to maintain a ski resort can cause horrific accidents. When a skier or snowboarder collides with a Snow Cat, snow groomer or snow tractor, it is typically a high impact collision of massive equipment against an unprotected body. If a skier or boarder is skiing in an area where grooming is being performed, utmost caution should be undertaken. Likewise, on any slope in a ski resort, skiers should remain alert for snowmobiles. Ski patrol and employees of the ski area routinely use the snowmobiles for moving across the resort. Often proceeding against the flow of downhill skiers, the snowmobiles pose a real threat to those who are not attentive.
Since 1978, all but three states with any significant ski industry have adopted a form of ski safety legislation that in some way limits the liability of ski area operators in ski cases. The statutes, often called “ski safety” legislation, are in truth, non-duty provisions, solely benefiting special-interest political constituents and ski resort operator.
Click here to see a state listing of applicable ski law.
In Colorado, the applicable law is the Colorado Ski Safety Act. To read the current statute, click here.
Prior to July 1, 1990, Colorado ski area operators were obliged not only to operate their ski areas in compliance with the specific requirements of the Ski Safety Statute (regarding the marking of slopes, the padding and marking of man made objects, and posting of specific warnings) but also to exercise a reasonable duty of care in the design, maintenance and operation of their slopes.
The 1989-90 General Assembly passed amendments to the Ski Safety Act which provided that no skier could recover for injuries resulting from the inherent dangers of skiing; and, limiting damages recoverable from a ski area operator for cases except for lift accidents. In 1995, the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted these amendments in Graven v. Vail Associates, Inc. 909 P. 2d 514 (Colo. 1995) the Colorado Supreme Court adopted a narrow construction of the inherent danger provisions of the Colorado Ski Act. C.R.S. §33-44-101 et sq.
This precedent will allow some skiers, who are injured while skiing, to advance a claim for injuries against a ski area operator if the injury results not from a ski area operator's breach of a specific duty set out in the Ski Act, but, rather from a danger or risk which is found to be not "integral" to the sport.
Case reports for recent ski area negligence cases.
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