WA Avalanche Shows 'Sidecountry Skiing' Risks

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 21, 2012 12:02 PM

The avalanche deaths of three expert skiers highlight the risks of "sidecountry skiing," an increasingly popular trend, experts say.

The skiers -- Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph, and Johnny Brenan -- were part of a group that purposely strayed outside the boundaries of the Stevens Pass Ski resort in Washington state, The Seattle Times reports. An avalanche swept down the steep slope on Sunday, and the three skiers were killed.

But because the skiers knew the risks involved with skiing out-of-bounds, their relatives probably won't be able to sue the resort for the avalanche deaths.

That’s because the legal doctrine of assumption of risk generally bars recovery when a plaintiff knows the risks of a dangerous activity like sidecountry skiing, and proceeds to engage in the activity anyway.

In the skiers’ case, they knew they were out-of-bounds in an area not controlled for avalanches, fellow skiers told the Huffington Post. The skiers had also read and discussed the morning’s avalanche report that said the avalanche risk was high.

Those factors suggest the skiers knew of the risk when they decided to ski out-of-bounds and triggered the avalanche. Their actions could also arguably be seen as contributory negligence -- taking unreasonable risks that led to their own injuries.

The avalanche deaths should be a warning to others who engage in sidecountry skiing, in which skiers buy resort passes to ride chairlifts, then hike out-of-bounds to find fresh, untouched powder in the backcountry, The Times explains.

Sidecountry skiing is the fastest-growing trend among skiers, experts tell The Times. But skiers should be aware, the doctrines of assumption of risk and contributory negligence will likely bar any wrongful-death or injury claims that result from purposely skiing out-of-bounds.

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