The dismissal of a wrongful death suit brought by the widow of Christopher Norris, a 28-year-old father of two, who died in an inbounds avalanche in Winter Park’s Trestle Trees in 2012 has been upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Salyndra Fleury argued that the ski area was aware of danger warnings and “knew or should have known” that the tree area was unsafe. On the morning of the avalanche, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center warned of “widespread dangerous avalanche conditions” and recommended that skiers and snowboarders “enjoy the powder in the safety of the ski area.”
But Grand County District Court Judge Mary C. Hoak ruled that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing. As such, the Ski Safety Act provides that the resort had no duty to post warning signs or close the run. Today, the appellate court upheld her decision in a 2-1 decision. Fleury Court of Appeals Opinion
The state’s ski safety act grants immunity for ski operators from “inherent dangers” of the sport, but the law does not specifically refer to avalanches.
The Court of Appeal’s decision, in a strained line of reasoning, found that since the ski safety statute does include “changing weather conditions” and “variations of steepness and terrain,” as inherent risks that an avalanche, as a result of these two elements, is also an inherent risk of the sport: “An avalanche is itself a danger resulting from certain conditions of snow, and the degree of danger is affected by “changing weather conditions” across “variations of steepness and terrain.(citation omitted) We thus construe the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing in § 33-44-103(3.5) as written to include an avalanche.”
The case is expected to be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.