DENVER (AP) – The widow of a skier killed in a 2012 avalanche inside the Winter Park ski area lost another round in a court challenge to Colorado’s ski risk limitation law after the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed Thursday with owners of the ski resort who contended they are not liable under a state law that says skiers take the risk when they hit the slopes.
Salyndra Fleury , widow of Christopher Norris, said the ski area should have roped off the area before her husband was swept to his death. A judge threw out the case, saying avalanches are included in the list of risks that protect ski resorts from liability.
Fleury’s attorneys contended those risks do not include an avalanche in areas maintained by the resort.
An attorney for the Denver-owned ski area’s operator, Intrawest, said he could not comment until he talked with his client. An attorney for Fleury said he planned to take the case to the Colorado Supreme Court comment.
The appeals court said the avalanche occurred from new snowfall, weak and unstable snowpack, and a steep slope, all covered under the law.
“While Mr. Norris’ death was tragic, IntraWest is not liable under the act. If the General Assembly wishes to hold ski areas accountable for avalanche-related injuries or deaths, it should amend the act,” the appeals court ruled Thursday.
Judge Jerry Jones disagreed with the ruling, saying his colleagues were “cobbling together three categories of covered dangers and risks” specified by law, including those covering new snowfall, weak and unstable snowpack and a steep slope.
“It is not as if avalanches are unheard of occurrences in the mountainous areas, or even on or near ski areas,” he said is his dissenting opinion.
Colorado’s industry standard Ski Safety Act limits a resort’s liability in lawsuits filed by family of those killed to $250,000. That cap has been tested many times since the legislation was enacted in 1979, but no jury or court ever has awarded injured skiers or bereaved families more than $250,000.
According to a report in the Denver Post several months after the accident, avalanche danger was high on Jan. 22, 2012, the day of the accident. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center that morning cited high winds and heavy snow when issuing an avalanche forecast warning of “widespread dangerous avalanche conditions.”
“Triggering avalanches remotely and from low angle or even flat terrain is likely,” read the Jan. 22 forecast. “Be very wary near or below any avalanche terrain, and keep in mind that even small slides can bury and kill you.”
Defenders of Norris say it is unlikely he saw those warnings. Even if he did, the forecast urged skiers to “enjoy the powder in the safety of the ski area.”
– By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer
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