Skier Responsibility Put on Trial

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Eagle, CO, Nov. 15, 2000--Nathan Hall bears more than guilt, four years after he crashed into fellow skier, Alan Cobb, who died on the hill. The Hall case could set a precedent for skier responsibility around the country and have global implications.

On April 20, 1997, the last day of the season, Hall, then 18 and a Vail lift operator, came flying down the "Lower Riva" trail's spring combination of mashed potato snow and uneven moguls. The circumstances of Hall's collision with Cobb remain unclear, but Cobb's death certainly passed as a result of impact with Hall and his equipment.

On Monday, a trial, debating Hall's culpability for reckless manslaughter, got underway. The case has been dismissed twice in court already. First, by an Eagle Country judge, who said Hall's conduct did not surpass the level of hazard and conscious disregard required by law. A District Court judge later upheld the ruling. In April, however, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned those decisions and ordered Hall to stand before District Court judge David Lass.

To complicate the matter, a film canister of marijuana was found in Hall's bag, and a small amount of alcohol was discovered in his blood. A Colorado statute stands, in regard to the operation of motor vehicles, whereby any person under the intoxicating effect of liquor or any drug who acts with a wanton or reckless disregard of human life or safety, will be deemed guilty of a felony.

Since no legal precedent stands for ski-related manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that Hall acted in a reckless manner, that he "consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk" resulting in the death of Alan Cobb. Hall's attorney, Brett Heckman, called the collision an accident, citing that the sport carries inherent danger.

In the last four years, many high-profile deaths have resulted on the slopes causing resorts across the country to tighten safety policies. The Skier Responsibility Code has existed for many years, but is rarely read and hardly ever enforced. Perhaps, after this case and the media attention it receives, skiers and snowboarders will recognize their responsibility to others on the slopes, just as drivers must be aware of others on the road. Thankfully, our ski outings may become a little safer.