Yellowstone Club ski patroller and avalanche expert, Darren Johnson, triggered an avalanche near Cedar Basin that swept him to his death. Johnson was in a 4-member group doing avalanche research on 19 January in the southwestern Montana area near Big Sky. Having concluded 23 stability tests over 4 hours of research that late morning and early afternoon, Johnson was well aware of the risk of jumping onto what the group had determined was an unstable wind-loaded slope with a “Considerable” rating for avalanche risk, but Continue reading Patroller and Avalanche Expert, Darren Johnson, Triggers Slide that Kills Him
Ski Area Management (SAM) magazine has published the first article in a two part series, “Rescue Me: The National Ski Patrol has been through years of turmoil. Can it be saved?”, which proposes to explore the acrimonious multi-year battle between various factions of the US National Ski Patrol System, Inc.’s (NSP) membership. The battle has resulted in NSP vs. NSP civil litigation on two occasions over the past 8 years.
At first glance the SAM series appears to be an attempt to explore solutions to problems that have been plaguing the organization since 2005. The two warring factions are largely comprised of a majority of NSP’s senior leadership on the one hand that propose that a small group of vocal and well organized members are wasting the time of senior leaders on issues that are of little strategic importance to the organization or the majority of its members.
On the other side there is a loosely-coordinated group that fashions itself as “members’ rights” advocates attempting to force NSP senior leaders to re-focus on the strategic interests of the organization. They say the NSP has strayed in recent years toward a primary focus on the financial interests of resorts and other for-profit entities, and they would like to put the strategic focus back on skier and rider safety and care, and conservative actions to protect members’ rights in support of that strategy and protecting the NSP’s non-profit status.
There is certainly truth to Continue reading Ski Area Management Magazine “Outs” National Ski Patrol Acrimony
The Breckenridge Ski Patrol obliterated “Leo’s Pot Shack” following an Inside Edition report pointed out some of the safety risks posed by the now quasi-legal use of marijuana on some Colorado ski slopes. This follows the legalization of marijuana by Colorado voters in late 2012. The video below shows the shack as it was reportedly being blown up by the Breckenridge Patrol.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cleared the Aspen Skiing Company (SkiCo) of any wrongdoing in its inquiry into the death of ski patroller, Patsy Hileman. SkiCo sources said in an Aspen Daily News report that they have no plans to change any policies in response to the incident.
Patsy Hileman, a 26-year veteran of the Aspen Ski Patrol, died in an avalanche on 30 December 2012 in the Ship’s Prow Glade, a permanently closed Snowmass backcountry skiing area. Hileman appears to have been skiing alone and inadvertently triggered a portion of the “crown” from a previous avalanche that pushed her off Continue reading SkiCo Cleared by OSHA in Snowmass Patroller’s Death
The California Senate has passed legislation amending the state’s Health and Safety Code to require ski resort operators in California to increase transparency of their skier/boarder safety programs, and the results of those programs.
Resorts will be required to prepare an annual safety plan that conforms with the requirements of federal regulations applicable to resorts operating on federal property, whether or not that resort actually operates on federal property. Those annual safety plans will need to be made available to members of the general public on the day of the request.
Resort owners will also be required to disclose known information on incidents and fatalities related to any snow sports activity the resort provides. Incident information that will need to be disclosed includes Continue reading California Skier Safety Legislation Passes State Senate
A new Denver Post report highlights the legal limbo that well-informed ski patrollers find themselves in when participating in rescue operations beyond the boundaries of resorts where they serve the skiing and boarding public.
While many resorts allow their volunteer and paid patrollers to participate in rescues outside area “boundaries”, some Colorado resorts are washing their hands of the liabilities resorts may otherwise bear – even notifying paid patrollers that they are “off the clock” when they participate in off-piste rescues, working as “volunteers”. Back country public safety officials at the local, regional and national levels are now scrambling to plug that risk gap so patrollers are able to do their dangerous work without bearing the universe of liability, life and health risks personally Continue reading Ski Patrol Volunteers Stuck in Legal Limbo
The NSP has endorsed a response to the series of articles published by Denver Post reporter Karen E. Crummy. An NSP member news release on its Web site directs patrollers to a response by Dan Whiting, Chief Accident Investigator at Wolf Creek Ski Area, and NSP Executive Director Tim White has released an official NSP response. Both are posted on the “Club Colorado” blog. The YouTube video that accompanied the Whiting response is included here. The NSP and Wolf Creek responses, however, appear to miss the “conflict of interest” point of the Post series.
The Denver Post report criticizes the practice of resort accident investigations becoming de facto legal findings, and the fact that Ski Patrol representatives Continue reading NSP Responds to Denver Post Report on Resort Accident Investigation Conflict of Interest
The first article, “Colorado system for investigating ski accidents raises concerns“, highlights the high degree of control that ski patrol and mountain management have over accident investigations on resort-owned and leased property.
The second in the series, “Colorado ski industry enjoys protection from law, waivers“, attempts to demonstrate that through effective lobbying, particularly in Colorado, resorts have been able to focus on limiting their exposure to liability through legislation, reducing the need for resort operators to Continue reading Denver Post Publishes Scathing Review of Skier Safety
As the NSP enters its 76th year and reflects upon its legacy, ski patrollers serve a very different skiing population and group of industry stakeholders. In this article we explore whether the National Ski Patrol System has accomplished its mission, and pose the question, “Has the U.S. network of ski and alpine touring resorts now evolved to the point where it can more effectively assume the NSP’s mission to prevent skiing accidents and assist those sustaining accidents?”
The past may inform the future on that point. Continue reading Happy 75th Birthday NSP: Mission Accomplished?
CASPER, Wyo. – A lawsuit has been filed in Wyoming’s Natrona County District Court against the City of Casper and the Casper Mountain Ski Patrol by the parents of a 5-year-old that was killed on Christmas Eve in 2010. Wyoming’s Spence Law Firm is representing the family. Gerry Spence, the firm’s legendary founder, is a civil rights attorney with a reputation that is well-known nationally.
Elsie Johnson was killed two years ago by a snowboarder, Craig Shirley, who also died in the incident at Hogadon Ski Area. Elsie and her mom, Kelli Johnson, were reportedly skiing on Dreadnaught, an expert run, and had stopped in the center of the trail when Shirley collided with them. Kelli Johnson was also seriously injured in the accident, and reportedly has no memory of the incident. Elsie Johnson and Craig Shirley, 23 years old, both died of blunt force trauma. Continue reading Casper Ski Patrol Sued by Parents of 5-Year-Old Killed in 2010 Incident
The NSP officials that filed the NSP v NSP Complaint in August have now settled all matters related to that suit. The member list has been provided to the plaintiffs without the restrictions originally imposed by the NSP that violated Colorado law. The Colorado District Court for Jefferson County approved the parties’ requested dismissal, with each side agreeing to pay its respective court costs and attorney fees.
From the settlement filing approved by the court:
“The concerns of the plaintiffs have been resolved and all of the parties who have appeared in this action stipulate and agree, by their respective attorneys, pursuant to C.R.C.P. 41(a)(1)(B), that the Complaint and action herein shall be and is hereby dismissed, with prejudice, and that each party shall bear its own costs and attorney fees.”
The “with prejudice” notation confirms that the matter was settled to their mutual satisfaction and that neither feels the need to re-file on that issue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this matter is even close to being over, Continue reading NSP Lawsuit Dismissed: No End to Internal Battles On Horizon
Minnie, they’re at it again! The organization founded in 1938 by Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, the National Ski Patrol (NSP), has been sued again by 6 patrollers, 5 of whom serve on the 28,000-member organization’s National Board of directors.
NSP watchers and members couldn’t forget, as much as they might like to, the last time this happened just 7 years ago. A group of Division Directors and patrollers was forced to sue the NSP in 2005 to have a say in how the organization was run, by electing their representatives on the NSP National Board. That group ultimately represented just under 8,000 NSP members before the organization relented and settled the litigation. That resolution led to a complete turnover of the NSP’s Board and National leadership team over 18 months. The settlement agreement resulted in a re-write of the NSP’s bylaws as it relates to member voting. Well, apparently old habits die hard.
The current suit was filed on 1 August 2012 in Colorado’s Jefferson County District Court, near the organization’s Lakewood headquarters. Continue reading National Ski Patrol: In-fighting Begins Anew
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down a decision on 18 July 2012 that reverses a Superior Court decision, in part, related to the Camelback Mountain Resort in the Pocono Mountains. Certain aspects of that decision may increase ski patroller exposure to liability at Pennsylvania resorts.
Camelback Ski Corporation and one of its employees were sued by Barbara Lichtman Tayer in January 2005 after she was injured in December 2003 at one of the mountain’s tubing parks. Camelback is in Tannersville, Pennsylvania and offers a range of winter sport activities, including skiing and snow tubing. Before allowing guests to participate in tubing it has them sign a liability release. Continue reading Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules in Camelback Negligence Case
Killington Resort in Vermont has settled a lawsuit with Alfred Rocks of Egg Harbor, N.J. Rocks filed suit against Killington claiming it failed to maintain a trail in a “reasonably safe condition”. The 53-year-old skier sustained leg fractures in the fall in 2009, and claims to have suffered additional injuries due to ski patroller negligence when a toboggan he was strapped into over-turned. The suit was filed in 2010. Two days into the trial Killington settled. While both sides confirmed a settlement, details on it were not released.
According to court filings, Rocks was on Ovation, a double black diamond trail, and seriously injured himself in a fall when he hit hit a bare spot and then careened into rocks. He says the spot was not marked, and that it should have been even though it was spring conditions. Rocks said that he was further injured when the ski patrol decided to take him down Ovation on a snowmobile, which lost control and overturned. At trial, counsel for Killington attempted unsuccessfully to bar the plaintiff from talking about the snowmobile incident. Continue reading Killington Settles Skier Lawsuit