Experts Say Michigan Laws Neglect Safety

The Detroit News
May 7, 2007
Section: Front Page: 06A
by Marney Rich Keenan

State’s regulations for snowmobile use are minimal
Michigan’s "Ski Area Safety Act of 1962" stands out not only because it is the nation’s oldest ski safety act, but also, say experts, because it has the weakest provisions for skier safety.

As a result, a skier’s legal recourse from an injury on the slopes is almost nonexistent.

"Michigan remains one of the most reactive states," says Jim Chalat, a Colorado attorney and noted ski law expert. "It has routinely barred practically all claims against ski area operators."

On the whole, laws regulating safety on slopes vary widely between states. Thus, what may be a liability in one state is not in another.

No state allows for recreational snowmobile use on ski slopes. Still, snowmobile use by employees is common: lift mechanics ride them to inspect lift towers or conduct maintenance or repairs, and ski patrols ferry medical equipment or pull sleds when responding to an injury.

In Michigan, the only regulation for snowmobiles requires that they operate with at least one white light on the front.

Marc and Anne Vachon, whose 7-year-old son was struck and killed by a snowmobile at the Alpine Valley ski resort, would like to see Michigan use regulations like those in Colorado.

By law in Colorado, snowmobiles must be equipped with a lighted headlamp, one lighted red tail lamp and a fluorescent flag at least 40 square inches mounted at least 6 feet above the bottom of the tracks.

In addition, ski area operators voluntarily equip their snowmobiles with sirens and emergency flashing red lights.

Also, snowmobiles cannot exceed speeds of 20 mph, and they can only travel, even in emergencies, in designated lanes.

These simple, inexpensive precautions, say the Vachons, might have saved their son’s life.