Have you ever read the fine print on a ski area waiver? Here’s what you agree to when you sign
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove a reference to an ongoing investigation by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. Monika May believed her incident was being investigated by the board, but a spokeswoman said the board did not have a formal complaint, which it would need to launch an official investigation.
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT — When you buy a lift pass at any ski area, you have to sign a waiver. Most people don’t actually read it, but it severely limits liability for a ski resort, even in cases when claims are based on resort negligence.
Monika May, a 55-year-old from Colorado Springs, knows that all too well. On Feb. 11, 2017, she was taking a lesson for advanced skiers at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
As May stood at the loading zone of 6 Chair, which provides access to black diamond terrain, she said a lift operator walked into a moving chair. It ricocheted off his body, swung wildly and hit her, she said. May said she remained standing, loaded the chair and continued riding up the lift. At the top, she stopped in a warming hut, where she called ski patrol to take her down the mountain.
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May reached out to the Summit Daily News about the incident after it published a story about lift safety at Colorado ski areas.
May said she sustained 13 injuries, including to her spine, cartilage in her knees and wrist, and ligaments in her ankles in addition to nerve damage. She said the injuries resulted in multiple surgeries and ongoing pain.
Her injuries put her work as a graphic designer on hold, and she had to live with her parents for several months when she said she could not take care of herself. Her medical care came with a hefty price tag, and she had to go on Medicaid, she said.
Almost three years later, May said she cannot ski and is still recovering from her injuries.
“I can’t ski anymore,” May said. “I’ve skied Breckenridge since I was 9 years old.”
As a Vail Resorts passholder and a participant in a ski lesson, May signed two waivers that limited the company’s liability.
The waiver a season passholder signs when purchasing an Epic Pass from Vail Resorts bars a skier or snowboarder from suing the company. At the top of the liability waiver is a statement bolded and highlighted that reads, “Warning: Please read carefully before signing! This is a release of liability & waiver of certain legal rights including the right to sue or claim compensation.”
Farther down the waiver, passholders sign away their right to sue or make any claims for any injury, including death, even if the claims are based on resort negligence.
There is similar language in all ski area waivers.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Slopes Maintenance Manager Louis Skowyra said that while A-Basin’s waiver does not absolve the ski area of all liability, the waivers are very strong.
By signing the waiver, May was barred from taking any legal action against Vail Resorts, and several lawyers declined to take her case. May wrote to high-up officials within the company, including Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Buhler and Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz, asking for help with her medical expenses, but company representatives said Breckenridge was unable to provide compensation.
“You have to lobby the state to change the law,” May said.
Because the incident happened while loading the chair, it was not reported to the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, which does not track incidents or injuries that take place while loading or unloading.
Those incidents are tracked at the resort level, according to an email from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies spokeswoman Lee Raizer.
“Loading and unloading incident logs are collected by ski areas and annually reviewed during unannounced inspections by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board (CPTSB) in an attempt to identify trends and enact any actionable corrections,” Raizer wrote in an email to the Summit Daily.
That’s something critics say essentially allows the ski industry to regulate itself.
May’s incident was reviewed by Breckenridge, which she said provided a very vague report. The small “incident card” includes the date, time and location of the incident, May’s personal information, a 10-word description of the incident and a 15-word description of the first aid she received from ski patrol.
That exceeds the Tramway Safety Board’s requirements for logging loading and unloading incidents, which calls only for the name of the lift, the date of the incident, and the name, addresses and age of the person injured.
When asked about the incident, Breckenridge spokeswoman Sara Lococo said the resort could not provide information on specific guest incidents or internal practices.
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