The potential hazards and freakishly deranged incidents that are possible at a ski resort are, simply put, astonishing. From getting smoked by an unidentified buried object to a surprise joyride on a detached chairlift, the list is as long as it is diverse. You saw that dude go full-frontal dangling from the chairlift a few years back right? I personally was attacked by a bedding sage grouse shredding the trees in Canada; if that’s not a unique way to loose your bearings and fly ass end up into a tree well then what is? Then there is your equipment. What if it fails? What if someone else’s fails and they, in turn, plow into you? If I kept track of all the crazy stories I have heard of mild to moderately injuries — and that is not to mention grotesquely dismembered — I could write a book… or at least a poorly-researched article. If you spend any amount of time on a ski or snowboard, you are liable to get bucked. But whose fault is it?
We have all noticed the Know the Code manifesto plastered on the back of every bathroom stall at every ski resort that you have ever been to.
1. Always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above.
However, the most important take-away is the disclaimer releasing the ski resort from any and all liability. Yep, it is printed right there on the back of every lift ticket and goes into minute detail regarding the potential risks one may encounter while on resort premises — you, the skier or boarder, feely assume all such risks, including death.
It is plain and simple: you have chosen to partake in a dangerous activity and any resulting mishaps are understood to be part of this risk. Yet, because of the curious case of so many incidents (a diverse selection that make even this all-encompassing transference of liability rather inconclusive), the issue is raised time and time again.
This is what makes ski resort liability so tricky and why, especially in this famously litigious society, there is always a case pending. I remember this time my buddy sliced some kid’s leg to the bone because this guy was posted up on the landing of a jump. Although my friend is an expert snowboarder, there was no way to avoid stomping his backside 360 dangerously close to this delinquent’s femoral artery. Who is to blame there? My friend couldn’t see him from his vantage point and this lost boy was totally ignorant of the fact that hanging out in the landing zone of a 40 foot jump is a bad scene.
Rule number three of the code clearly states: you must not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above. But this child was in no way fit for unsupervised action on (or seemingly off) the slopes. And they either didn’t read or didn’t understand and appreciate the code. Yet if my friend would have been hurt and incurred medical expenses, would he have been justified in suing the kid and kid’s parents for neglect? Recently, there was a similar situation in Oregon in which a snowboarder claimed a teen slammed into her, and subsequently sued the teen’s parents for $955,000. Liability is, indeed, transferrable, but to what point? And in what capacity?
Then there is various natural phenomena. Resorts abide by a rigorous protocol when maintaining slope safety. When those standards are met and the area is deemed safe for the public then you are on your own. If you are the first or fiftieth person down the slope and an avalanche pops how can it be said that it’s the resort’s fault? That would be like blaming the city of San Diego for losing you leg in a shark attack while swimming at one of their beaches. You are ultimately dealing with nature and you will find compensation against her indifference and unpredictability a futile endeavor. And they managed the snow according to the standards deemed necessary by various snow safety organizations. So, with that in mind, is this liability transferrable from the resort to the snow safety organizations?
Additionally, there is the occasional negligence on behalf of the resort. Which is to say that because of employee error, neglect, or even malicious intent, either equipment failed or protocol was not met. If the lift line detaches and you get whipped into the next county because the resort failed to meet inspection standards, then you surely have a real case. If an employee is joyriding a snowmobile still drunk from the night before and clips your leg, then you should definitely notify the authorities.
So whose fault is it? A lot of different people depending on the different circumstances of the incident. Whose fault is it legally? All signs would argue that it is nobody’s but your own.
I believe Hunter Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” He didn’t say, “Buy the ticket, demand compensation for your lack of understanding that the ride is dangerous.”