Taft Conlin’s parents appealing son’s Vail skier death case

Randy Wyrick / Vail Daily
Plaintiff's attorney Jim Heckbert, center, with associates Heather Christman, left and Nelson Boyle, right, are leading the appeal for Taft Conlin's parents, Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Stephen Conlin. A jury ruled that Vail Resorts did not act illegally in the on-mountain avalanche death of Taft Conlin.
Randy Wyrick

EAGLE — Almost everything about the judge and jury’s decisions in a Vail Mountain skier death case is being appealed.

Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Steve Conlin, parents of Taft Conlin, say judges in Broomfield and Eagle counties erred in several rulings. Court documents filed with the Colorado Court of Appeals declared their intention to appeal those rulings and the jury’s verdict, which was based on those judges’ rulings.

Their appeal says the courts were wrong on five overarching issues:

1. Change of venue order, moving the trial from Broomfield to Eagle County.

2. Pretrial orders by District Court Judge Fred Gannett.

3. Rulings during trial before the jury.

4. Erroneous jury instructions.

5. Erroneous verdict form that resulted in a defense verdict.


Ingalls and Conlin filed their case in 2012, months after their son was killed in an in-bounds avalanche on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, while skiing Prima Cornice.

Two gates provide access to Prima Cornice. The upper gate was closed, but the lower gate was not. Taft and a group of friends entered that lower gate and sidestepped up.

Taft started down and took several turns before he was swept away in the avalanche that killed him.

The case worked its way through courts in Eagle and Broomfield counties and was put on hold while the state Supreme Court ruled in the case of another inbounds avalanche death in Winter Park.


Ingall and Conlin’s appeal asserts that the ski company did not notify the public that by closing the upper gate, it intended to close that part of Prima Cornice between the two gates.

After a nine-day trial, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, the jury found in favor of the ski company.

Through their attorney, Jim Heckbert, with the Denver firm Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, Ingalls and Conlin say Gannett erred when he allowed evidence during the trial that they say was “misleading, inadmissible or irrelevant.” They also say Gannett erred when he “improperly excluded evidence” and when they were denied a request for a different judge.


Vail Resorts says its costs to defend the case were an “approximated $1 million.”

Of that, Vail Resorts says its recoverable costs total $173,295.63. Traditionally in Colorado, the losing party in a civil lawsuit pays some of the prevailing party’s costs.

“In light of plaintiff’s pursuit of an appeal, our filing is simply a preservation of our rights as the prevailing party to seek reasonable court costs. We remain hopeful for a quick appellate process and ultimate closure of the case,” Vail Resort said in a statement.

In their request, the ski company says the case was long and complex and included 40 depositions, as well as expert witnesses. The ski company is asking Eagle County District Court to order the payment.

“As the prevailing party, Vail is entitled to the reasonable costs it incurred in litigating this case,” their request says.

They’ll have to wait, Heckbert said.

“Any order to pay costs is held in abeyance until the appeal is decided,” Heckbert said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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