Vail, CO, March 1– Just how responsible are you for your actions on the nation’s ski slopes? The Colorado Supreme Court is currently asking this question in a case of a skier collision that resulted in death on the slopes of Vail, CO in 1996.
Nathan Hall, then 18, allegedly skied straight down Riva Ridge–an expert slope at Vail Mountain–flew off a knoll and landed on 33-year-old Allen Cobb, who was killed almost instantly.
Hall was originally charged with reckless manslaughter. It was the second time a skier was criminally charged for an accident resulting in death on Colorado slopes. However, an Eagle County Court judge and district court judge dismissed the charges, saying that there was no proof that Hall recognized that he could kill someone by skiing out of control.
The courts also added that because of the low amount of skier deathsresulting from collisions–roughly six per 10 million skier days-Hall’sbehavior on skis could not involve a substantial risk of death. The conclusion didn’t sit well with district attorney Michael Goodbee, who subsequently appealed the case to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Goodbee asked the court to decide if skiing extremely fast or out of control without consideration of other skiers was a criminal act. The Colorado Supreme Court recently heard arguments on the case and is expected to render a much-anticipated decision in the next couple of months.
Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA), the trade association that represents the state’s 25 ski areas, is watching the case very closely. CSCUSA wouldn’t comment specifically on the case, citing, “we don’t comment on pending cases.” However, according to CSCUSA communications director Lisa Bremner, the outcome of the case will have an impact on the entire ski industry.
“Whatever happens with this case, ultimately, each person has to takesafety into their own hands,” Bremner said. “But I’m not sure that this case will drive the issue home.”
This year, CSCUSA and the National Ski Areas Association, which represents 330 ski areas in 39 states, took a strong stance on skier safety in an effort to curb reckless and dangerous skiing.
“This year we have taken a higher profile on really trying to get the safety messages out there and to get people to ski more responsibly,” Bremner added. “We’re trying to push safety in a positive way.”
In a 1988 landmark case, criminal charges were filed against 31-year-old Howard Hidle, of Texas, after he crashed into and killed 11-year-old Kari Meylor, of Iowa, in a crowded base area at Winter Park Resort. Hidle entered a no-contest plea to criminally negligent homicide and served 30 days in jail. He also performed 400 hours of community service and paid $1,500 in restitution.
Since the Hidle case, Colorado district attorneys have prosecuted numerous ski-collision cases that have resulted in injuries, but none that have resulted in death.
Since then, ski areas have also cracked down on dangerous skiing. Vail Resorts, owners of Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge, led the nation last year with six ski-related deaths, including one case where both a skier and snowboarder were killed after colliding with each other.
This year at Vail and Beaver Creek, The Yellow Jackets safety patrol has enforced Your Responsibility Code in an effort to curb reckless skiing, especially in low speed and family ski zones.
“I think there is an increased awareness of skier responsibility, safetyissues and acting responsibly on the slopes,” said Vail Resort’s spokesman Paul Witt of the increased safety programs like the Yellow Jackets. “But it’s hard to judge if there has been any real impact. But we feel that the safety awareness issues are reducing injuries on the mountain.”
As for the Colorado Supreme Court case, Witt added “we’re watching it, but we’re not sure what, if any, affects it will have on us. It happened on our mountain, so naturally, we’re interested too see how it turns out.”
However thee Colorado Supreme Court rules on the case, both Witt and Bremner said that it all comes down to skiers skiing responsibly.
“Your Responsibility Code is posted all over the mountain and it applies to everyone all the time,” Witt added.