Wyoming Ski Law
Under Wyoming’s “Recreation Safety Act,” Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1-121 to 1-1-123, providers of “sport and recreational opportunities,” including skiing and snowmobiling, have no duty to eliminate, alter, or control the “inherent risks” of a particular opportunity, but are responsible for their negligence. Participants assume all “inherent risks,” defined as “those dangers or conditions which are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational activity.” Skiing in closed or non-designated areas, skiing while intoxicated, leaving the scene of a skiing accident, or skiing with “reckless disregard” for safety are punished as misdemeanors (including jail time in all but the first situation). Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-9-201, 6-9-301.
Review a few Ski Law cases from Wyoming below.
Prior to 2006
Harshman v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 200 F.Supp.2d 1329 ( 2002)
On February 28, 2000, sixteen year old Adam Harshman (“Decedent”), a life long resident of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and holder of a season pass at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, was fatally injured while snowboarding over a jump in the man-made terrain park at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Ski Area. The fatal injury occurred when Decedent, after snowboarding off the twenty-five foot high man-made tabletop jump landed on his upper back and head. The Terrain Park was a specially designated and roped-off area at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which contained man-made obstacles including the tabletop jump in question, and a half pipe for use by skiers and snowboarders.
The US District Court found that the decisions of the Defendant United States regarding the regulation of snowboarding as well as its regulation of Defendant JHMRC’s duties of operating and safely maintaining the ski area and terrain park, were matters of judgment and choice based upon public policy considerations which are protected by the discretionary function exception to the FTCA, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). Further, the court found there are no genuine issues of material fact as to whether the fatal injuries suffered by the Decedent from his failed landing attempt while snowboard jumping and riding over a man-made jump at a specially designated terrain park were caused by an inherent risk of such a sport. The court granted both Defendant United States’ Motion to Dismiss and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.
Prior to 2006
The leading case addressing the question of who determines inherent risks under the Act is Halpern v. Wheeldon, 890 P.2d 562 (Wyo. 1995); this case, involving a guest who was thrown from a horse at a dude ranch, noted that, unlike other states, Wyoming did not provide a statutory list of assumed risks. While a participant assumes “inherent risks” as a matter of law, when a genuine issue of material fact exists as to what those particular risks were, such an issue belongs before the jury. Where a skier sustained permanent injury after falling 12 feet into a snowboard half-pipe, the court determined that questions of fact remained for the jury regarding what risks Dunbar had personally assumed. Dunbar v. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Corp., 392 F.3d 1145 (10th Cir. 2004). Dunbar came upon a specially-designed “terrain park” with expert features, while she was skiing at her level of expertise on an intermediate run. She asked resort staff to direct her away from the features, as she did not want to participate at that level. While moving along a catwalk and ramp as directed by resort staff, Dunbar fell into the half-pipe feature. The court’s decision suggests a sliding-scale approach to inherent risk analysis under the Act, based not on skiing as a whole, but the particular factual setting of each case, and the choices made by the plaintiff.
In a case upholding the general validity of waivers, the court in Milligan v. Big Valley Corp., 754 P.2d 1063 (Wyo. 1998) affirmed summary judgment in favor of a resort. Plaintiffs were the widow and son of a certified ski instructor who was found unconscious on a course during an “ironman decathlon,” for which he had signed a release to be allowed to participate. The event was to include various activities, the first among them being downhill skiing. Organizers had run the course a few times and marked a few hard, icy spots with skis, but no hay bales, speed nets, gates, or other measures were taken. No one was required to wear a helmet. Although a few other participants had lost control at the same location where decedent was believed to have lost control and hit a tree, the court found no willful or wanton disregard for participant safety by the resort from which to justify setting aside the releases.