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I’ve Been Injured at a Ski Resort, and It Wasn’t Another Skier!

Ski Safety II – Ski Resort Liability

In the last article, we looked at a situation where one skier hits another while at a resort in Colorado. This article looks at the other side of ski law, where the injured party is seeking compensation from the ski resort. Injuries can happen anywhere on a ski resort, but where and how they happen can completely change how a case is brought against that resort. Colorado has a system of statutes named the Ski Safety Act, which generally establishes duties for both skiers and resorts. Ski resorts are also given obligations by the Tramway Safety Act, which regulates the operation of chairlifts (and other ski lift types such as J-bar, T-bar, etc.). We covered these duties for skiers in the previous article on ski safety. Resorts have duties as well, and the violation of any of these duties amounts to negligence by the ski resort, according to the language of the Ski Safety Act. That being said, Colorado ski resorts have immunity in a large number of potential cases, granted by both the Ski Safety Act and Colorado case law.

Ski resort liability can roughly be broken into three different areas, depending on where you are when you are injured. These areas are (1) injuries while skiing at the resort, (2) injuries while you are at the resort, but NOT skiing, and (3) injuries while you are on a chairlift.

Injuries While Skiing – Inherent Dangers and Risks

The Ski Safety Act describes certain “inherent dangers and risks of skiing,” including things like snow conditions, ice, trees, rocks, cliffs, jumps, man-made structures throughout the resort, etc. Later on, the statute makes clear that unless there is case law or another statute that says otherwise, skiers cannot sue ski resorts for injuries resulting from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. This immunity is further laid out in the case of Redden, where the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that liability waivers (like those on the back of your ski ticket) will provide immunity as long as the risk causing injury is specifically written out in that waiver. As long as this waiver is fairly entered into by the skier, a ski resort may be immune when a skier is hurt by, for example, running into an unmarked tree stump on a trail. Between the language of the Ski Safety Act and the case of Redden, ski resorts are more likely to have immunity from these types of claims.

Injuries While NOT Skiing – Resort Facilities

Ski trails are not the only place at a ski resort where injuries can occur. Imagine you just finished your day of skiing and want to use the restroom at the base area before you travel home. As you walk into the restroom, you slip on an unmarked, uncleaned patch of ice or water. You weren’t skiing on a trail, but you were still hurt at the ski resort, and your best claim may be against that resort.

The Ski Safety Act defines “ski area” as “all ski slopes or trails and all other places within the ski area boundary, marked in accordance with section 33-44-107(6), under the control of a ski area operator and administered as a single enterprise within this state.” The important parts of this sentence are “all other places” and “single enterprise.” The Colorado Court of Appeals was asked to interpret these words in the case of McLean v. Winter Park Recreational Association back in 1988. There, a woman was hurt in a parking lot owned by Winter Park, not while she was actively skiing on the mountain. The Court held that the term “ski area” could not include places such as shops, restaurants, or parking lots that are technically located on the ski area property, because those places are not directly related to the enterprise of skiing. The Court held that these locations do not fall within the meaning of “all other places” and are therefore not subject to the same regulations as ski trails under the Ski Safety Act.

The effect of this case is that ski areas are much less likely to have immunity if you are injured at a base area facility or parking lot, than if you are actively skiing down the mountain.

Injuries While Riding a Chairlift

The last main type of ski resort injuries are those that occur on a chairlift. At this moment, the case of Redden, mentioned earlier, still applies in cases where skiers are injured due to the operation of lifts. Ski resort operators have the highest duty of care for operators of chairlifts, a much higher burden than reasonable care, which is normally present in civil claims like ski accidents. Despite this, the Court in Redden held that skiers could waive these types of claims in the same way as they could waive any claim for inherent dangers and risks of skiing, as long as negligence by a chairlift operator is specifically included in the waiver. 

Despite the current holding of Redden, this type of case is once again open to change. The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments on February 13, 2024, for the case of Miller v. Vail Resorts. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether skiers can waive liability for injuries arising out of chairlift operation, even though a statute provides a higher duty of care. This case has the potential to completely change the law of Redden, depending on how the Court rules.

Injuries at ski resorts can lead to complicated legal fights, and if you have been injured at a ski resort, don’t give up hope for your claim just because ski resorts have significant shields from liability. Call an attorney now, so they can best help you navigate these issues and seek compensation.

1 C.R.S. § 33-44-104(2).
2 C.R.S. § 33-44-103(3.5).
3 C.R.S. § 33-44-112.
Redden v. Clear Creek Skiing Corp., 490 P.3d 1063 (Colo. App. 2020).
5 C.R.S. § 33-44-103(6).
McLean v. Winter Park Recreational Ass’n, 762 P.2d 751, 753 (Colo. App. 1988).
Bayer v. Crested Butte Mt. Resort, 960 P.2d 70, 74 (Colo. 1998).
8 See published oral arguments at https://cojudicial.ompnetwork.org/embed/sessions/284293/23sa186-22sc712 

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