On January 22, 2012, 13-year-old Taft Conlin was skiing on Vail Mountain’s Prima Cornice run when an in-bounds avalanche occurred on closed terrain that killed him. This prompted a lawsuit involving Conlin’s parents and Vail Resorts over the death, with the boy’s parents claiming that the ski resort was negligent with their trail closing procedure. In order to access the terrain, Conlin and friends entered through an open lower gate (upper gates were closed) and then hiked roughly 120 feet above the gate. This triggered the deadly slide.
In 2017, Vail Resorts lost an attempt to have the case dismissed based on the Colorado Ski Safety Act, which requires skiers and snowboarders to accept the inherent risks of the sport. This decision was made because the judge decided the case had more to do with lack of signage than inherent avalanche risk. The Colorado Ski Safety Act requires resorts to place closure notices on each identified entrance to a run or use rope to block off closed sections. In this case, there was no sign or rope on the lower gate. While hiking up a run might not be conventional, it was still possible to do so without knowledge of the run closure.
According to a recent story by Vail Daily, Conlin’s parents claim that hiking uphill on this run for better terrain is common and has been for years – something several witnesses have attested to. Vail Resorts denies this and has taken the stance that their ski patrollers aren’t aware of this practice if it does happen – something long time, now former, patroller Keith Riehe has agreed with.
According to Vail’s defense, “Skiing is a downhill sport.” In another statement by the defense, “[Vail] wanted to leave the lower gate open so skiers could ski the lower portion of Prima Cornice.”
Ski resorts around the state and country are surely playing close attention, as this case may test the limits of skier liability put forward in the Colorado Ski Safety Act.
This civil case can last up to three weeks. We’ll continue to update with details as the case moves forward.
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