Carlisle: Insuring the Imperial |

Carlisle: Insuring the Imperial

Marc Carlisle

We’re on the back side now, 51 days until we put “paid” on the ski season, with a lot to do and a lot to look forward to. Courtesy of the en-sea-aye-aye, the collegiate spring breaks, which used to be spread out over the month of March, have now been squeezed into a single week of that month, making the week of the 15th a rival to Christmas for sheer numbers of visitors to the county. Courtesy of sister moon and her phases, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been scheduled for April 19. Now, that is the very definition of the word faith ” when a religion built on certain key events can’t say when the Son of Man was born, died, or reborn, yet expects followers to believe.

On a more secular note, the day before Easter on April 18 is the Imperial Challenge in Breckenridge. The Imperial is a little guy as events go, no Triple Crown of snowboarding or Courage Classic, just 300 folks aged 16 to 65 struggling to get from Breckenridge to the top of Peak 8 and back again. There’s little obvious structure to the event; indeed, watching the start is akin to watching water boil. One moment nothing seems to be happening, just a bunch of folks milling around, then abruptly the smooth surface becomes roiling chaos. Without a sanctioning body, no NORBA or USSA, the only rules are those necessary for safety, leaving the focus on getting there and back again. But without a sanctioning body, however, or corporate sponsors, liability insurance is an issue, and while the date for the Imperial is a definite, the $8,000 tentative tab for insurance remains, well, a challenge.

Over the years I’ve come to understand how lucrative the insurance business could be, although I’ve never understood why it takes hundreds of thousands of people to make it happen. If you have group health insurance, your age is the single variable. Your health, your lifestyle, and your medical history are unimportant, and your premiums are set by the chart. In car insurance, which is group health for you and your rolling stock, age matters, but especially in a no-fault state, neither the car nor the driving record of the insured have much influence to the chart. So if the chart sets the rates ” and very often the customer does the data entry online when applying for insurance or filing a claim ” just what value is added by all those hundreds of thousands of people remains, to me at least, a tad vague. In the case of liability insurance for an event like the Imperial, the only variable is the amount of coverage per occurrence; the claims history (none) of an event in its 17th year is no factor, and while liability waivers (plural, there are at least two) are mandatory, the fact that a signed waiver(s) can preclude the very claims for which insurance is paid is no matter to the chart. Worse, having liability insurance is no guarantee of coverage, since the chart gives the insurance company leeway to decide, even if all its requirements are met, not to honor its commitments and force the insured to sue the insurance company to honor those commitments. It’s a helluva system.

In past years, creativity has made the cost of liability insurance manageable, but this year the chart may have the final say. That’s the most galling part of the insurance situation. Summit County government, which could not possibly be more helpful, and the ski area, whose employees and enthusiastic volunteers are the Imperial’s foundation, say yes, as do the event organizers, who volunteer to run the event solely for the benefit of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. Certainly the participants, as long as you don’t ask them on the boot pack above the T-bar would say yes. But thanks in some measure to state legislators engrossed in endorsing Israel’s military actions in Gaza, the no on the chart can be the last word. But the chart has power only because we have faith in the chart and accept the word of the chart. To do otherwise borders on heresy, on contra-mundum, on riding a bike in the snow and hiking a peak under a perfectly good chairlift and skiing on closing weekend. Heresy makes the Imperial and may yet deny the chart. Faith and blind acceptance, after all, belong on Sunday the 19th; on the 18th, heresy, happy heresy by the people will rule the day.

Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at

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