Every winter, the snowy slopes fill with skiers and snowboarders, from professionals to amateurs, and everyone in between. The Denver Post reports that 12.6 million visitors headed to Colorado in the 2013 – 2014 season to visit the 25 ski areas in the state. Though skiing is a fun and exhilarating recreational activity, it is not without its risks. CNN reports that 40 people die from skiing and snowboarding accidents each year. One such death prompted a lawsuit that has made its way all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Christopher Norris died in an avalanche in 2012 on the Trestle Trees run at Winter Park Resort. His widow, Salynda Fleury filed a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against the operator of the Winter Park Resort, Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation (“Intrawest”). Fleury alleged that Intrawest “knew or should have known that an avalanche was likely to occur on Trestle Trees on January 22, 2012 and that Intrawest’s failure to warn skiers about the likelihood of avalanches or failure to close Trestle Trees caused Mr. Norris’s death.” The trial court held that Intrawest was not liable for Christopher’s death because an avalanche was “an inherent risk of skiing.”The court dismissed Fleury’s case with prejudice.
The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, that Intrawest was not liable for Norris’ death. The majority opinion of the court stated that the Ski Safety Act “grants ski area operators immunity from claims for injuries resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Fleury argues that because avalanche is not specifically stated as an inherent risk of skiing, the “General Assembly did not intend that it should be so regarded for purposes of the Act.” The court disagreed and found that the though not explicitly stated, “that avalanche fits the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” The court stated that the list of examples was nonexclusive.
In a dissent, Justice Jones states that “[i]n my view, that provision does not expressly or by clear implication include avalanches occurring on open, designated ski trails within its definition.” Accordingly, Jones would not grant immunity to Intrawest and would permit Fleury to proceed with her claim.
The Colorado Supreme Court Takes The Case
The Denver Business Journal stated that the Colorado Supreme Court decided to hear the case due to this dissent, to decide the meaning of the term, “inherent dangers and risks of skiing.”
On September 29, 2015, the high court heard oral arguments from the parties in Fleury v. Intrawest Winter Park Operations, the Associated Press reports. The Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion is forthcoming. It will be interesting to see how the court interprets the contested term, because as the Associated Press points out, it could have “potentially far-reaching implications for the state’s $3 billion-a-year ski industry.”