Taft Conlin, 13, died January 22nd, 2102 in an in-bounds avalanche on the “Prima Cornice” run at the Vail Resort. On that day, Conlin, along with several of his friends, entered the Prima Cornice run, which was closed at the top entrance, from a lower entrance and triggered an in-bounds avalanche which killed Conlin, an expert telemark skier.
Taft Conlin’s parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against The Vail Corp., claiming that the resort violated the Colorado Ski Safety Act when it closed the upper access to the Prima Cornice run but did not close the lower entrance.
In their lawsuit, Conlin’s parents claim the law requires ski operators to place ropes or signs at all the entrances to a closed run. Vail agrees that the lower entrance was not marked closed, but when Conlin sidestepped up into an area between the two entrances, he “knew or reasonably should have known that the slope uphill from the gate was closed.”
Vail moved for dismissal of the case. In an order issued Tuesday, Broomfield County District Court Judge Chris Melonakis ruled that Vail may be found liable in Conlin’s death and the case will continue to trial. The court held that Vail failed to prove it is protected under the ski-safety act, because it did not fulfill its responsibilities under the law when operators did not close the lower entrance to the run.
“The Court finds that the risk of injury or death by an avalanche is substantial and foreseeable,” Melonakis wrote in his order. “The burden of placing a sign or rope at the point where the terrain adjoins or intersects is slight when balanced against the nature of the risk of serious injury or death.”
The ruling could have major implications for Colorado ski operators, who have long been insulated by the state law and allowed to escape any liability for injuries and deaths at ski areas. The ski-safety act spells out responsibilities for skiers and snowboarders and grants immunity to ski operators from “inherent dangers” of the sport.
If the case goes to trial, it would be the first one involving an avalanche within the boundaries of a ski area to go before a Colorado jury. Last February, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that avalanches within the boundaries of open runs at Colorado ski resorts are an inherent danger. The wrongful-death suit in that case was brought by the wife of Christopher Norris, a 28-year-old father of two who died in an inbounds avalanche in Winter Park’s Trestle Trees in 2012.