Montana Ski Law
Montana’s ski safety statute is found at Mont. Code Ann §§ 23-2-731 to 23-2-736, last amended 2013. It defines skier, passenger, and operator duties. An operator owes certain warning, marking, and notice duties to skiers, “consistent with the duty of reasonable care owed.” Id. at § 23-2-733. Skiers assume all “risks inherent” in the sport, including collisions with other skiers and avalanches, except on open, designated ski trails. No limitations on a skier’s right to hold another skier legally accountable for damages caused by the other skier Id. at § 23-2-736. A tramway operator is not a common carrier, per § 23-2-703. Snowmobiling activity and liabilities are governed under a similar statutory scheme at §§ 23-2-651 to 23-2-655.
Upky v. Marshall Mountain, 180 P.3d 651, 342 Mont. 273, 2008 MT 90 (2008)
Court found that record had evidence supporting jury finding that snowboard ramp builder was not negligent where builder claimed to have placed bamboo poles to signify the ramp was closed and the ultimate decision making authority to open or close the ramp was with the ski area operator.
Prior to 2006
In upholding the Act as amended in 1989 against a repeat of a 1988 challenge to its constitutionality (based on overbreadth), the court in Mead v. M.S.B., Inc., 872 P.2d 782 (Mon. 1994) held that the list of operators’ duties in § 23-2-733 is not exhaustive. This case also held that: 1) the question of whether a particular risk is “inherent” properly belongs with the jury, and 2) that operators remain subject to the state’s general due care statute, Mon. Code Ann. § 27-1- 701. The National Park Service was held not liable for the death of a child hiker killed on a trail not maintained in Winter at Yellowstone National Park, under the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act. Childers v. U.S., 40 F.3d 973 (9th Cir. 1995), cert denied. But consider the case of a snowboarder who suffered catastrophic brain injury allegedly caused by the Forest Service’s failure to warn of a potentially dangerous condition on a groomed snowmobile trail: Oberson v. U.S., 311 F.Supp.2d 917 (D. Mont. 2004) (Forest Service held liable). Like many other states, Montana has a recreational use statute (§ 70-16-302) that grants immunity to private landowners who open their property to the public for permissive, non- commercial recreational activity; a ski area successfully used the statute to fend off a wrongful death suit brought by the parents of a minor killed during after-hours sledding. Saari v. Winter Sports, Inc., 64 P.3d 1038 (Mont. 2003).