Colorado Act Provides Immunity for Avalanche-related Injuries


Construing the Colorado Ski Safety Act of 1979, on May 31, the Colorado Supreme Court, in Fleury v. IntraWest Winter Park Operations Corp., held that a fatal avalanche that occurred within the bounds of the Winter Park ski resort was an “inherent danger and risk of skiing” and the Act precludes skiers or their families from bringing claims against the operators for any resulting injuries. The Act is part of Title 33 of the Colorado Revised Code governing Wildlife and Parks and Outdoor Recreation. The Act and the protections provided by it illustrate once more the fact that state legislatures often make public policy decisions like this which balance the importance of a particular industry to a state against the risks that the public will knowingly take in engaging in these activities.

The Court ruled, in a split decision, that since the Act’s definition of “inherent dangers and risks of skiing” specifically includes “snow conditions as they exist or may change,” it must also which must encompass an avalanche which, at its core, as the movement or changing condition of snow. Although it was alleged that the operators of Winter Park were well aware of avalanche warnings from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the unstable condition of the snow on the ski run, the run was not closed, nor were warning signs posted.

The Dissent noted that the term “avalanche” does not appear in the Act, and the Justice was reluctant to add to the Act’s already lengthy list of inherent skiing dangers. As a result of this decision, the dissent observes that the Act does not require ski operators to mitigate avalanches or to issue avalanche warnings, and the majority’s holding, “today abrogates any common law duty of care to do so.”