Know the Code

All skiers and snowboarders have a responsibility to abide by the skier and snowboarder Responsibility Code.

The Code is a list of seven key safety principles. In a manner of speaking, it’s our rules of the road. The Code is incorporated into Colorado’s Ski Safety Act or “SSA”. The SSA establishes responsibilities for skiers and snowboarders and spells out risks inherent to the sport. 

Under the law, skiers and snowboarders are responsible for skiing and riding within one’s ability level, maintaining control of one’s course and speed, avoiding collisions with others, and to obey all signs and closures.

The Code establishes our duties. When a skier or snowboarder breaches one of these duties it is negligence. When that negligence results in injuries and damages to someone else – it’s a skier collision claim. My daughter has been on Vail Devo for years. All of these kids know the Code. Sadly, most adults or those who haven’t had formal ski or snowboard lessons don’t. Ignorance of the rules doesn’t excuse a hitter from responsibility. It’s up to all of us – your friends and loved ones ­ – to know and follow the code!

Seven Points to Your Responsibility Code

  1. Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.

    Regardless of snow conditions, a skier or snowboarder must be able to stop and avoid colliding with other riders. Speed is usually a factor in collisions. A rider that is ripping around other people or engaging in a human slalom is skiing or riding carelessly. Collisions from this type of behavior are far too common and often results in great harm. Similarly, a novice skier or rider that can’t stop or avoid others is a hazard. Being a beginner does not excuse someone from responsibility for a collision.
  2. People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

    Establishing who is downhill is often the key aspect of determining who is responsible in a collision. Scanned pass data, witness statements and sometimes an expert reconstruction and the nature of the injuries themselves can help with proof.
  3. You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.

    This is a possible exception to the downhill rider right of way. A person stopped in a blind spot may be responsible for a collision. The totality of circumstances surrounding the collision must be considered.
  4. Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.

    This is another potential exception to the downhill rider right of way. These collisions are akin to a car entering traffic from a parking space and not checking to see if it can be done safely. Although there is a presumption that the person who hit the downhill rider is at fault, that may not be the case in this situation. Again, the totality of circumstances surrounding the collision and a thorough investigation must be performed.
  5. Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

    Almost all bindings have brakes. If a person knows they have faulty brakes and they have a runaway ski that clobbers someone – they will be responsible for the injuries. Likewise telemark skiers (me!) and snowboarders must have leashes to prevent a runaway ski or board.
  6. Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

    Ignore a posted sign or warning and run into someone? You are at fault.
  7. Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.

    Sometimes injuries occur when a skier or snowboarder falls when trying to get off the chair and the people exiting the chair behind them run into them. Another issue raised in these incidents is whether the chairlift operator, and the ski area that employs them, is responsible for not timely stopping the chair. These are complex cases and the answer can differ depending on the jurisdiction or location of the claim. Having a ski lawyer that understands the law and most recent court opinions is critical.

If you have any questions about whether a code violation and resulting injury is a valid claim I encourage you to call me at (303) 300-5060 for a free consultation. I answer questions like yours every day.

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