Guest opinion: Hit and run skiers add insult to injury
March 19, 2015
Four Winter Park ski patrollers stood at the top of the Super Gauge Express on Saturday afternoon, March 14. Two more, on skis, were stationed slightly further downslope. They were waiting there for a snowboarder in a blue jacket and black helmet with a blue bandana and blond facial hair. He never came.
The snowboarder had been involved in a collision with another skier. Rather than stay with the injured skier, or go to get patrol, he ran off. This snowboarder is one of an increasing number of skiers and boarders who ride recklessly, hurt other people, and then compound the problem by acting selfishly and running away.
Collisions between skiers are traditionally handled as a civil matter. In a ski accident, like with a car accident, the injured skier can typically look to the at-fault skier's insurance to cover the medical expenses, lost work, and in some cases the permanent physical impairments that these high-speed collisions can cause. Unfortunately, many skiers do not know that they are covered for the damage they do by their existing homeowners' or renters' policy. And so, fearing financial consequences, some choose to flee the scene and it becomes a criminal matter. But the penalty often does not fit the crime.
By law, skiers and boarders involved in a collision are required to exchange identifying information before leaving the scene of an accident to facilitate the insurance claim process. The penalty for a hit-and-run skier collision is a class 2 petty offense, regardless of how severe the injury. This puts hit-and-runs on the slopes in the same category as littering or riding RTD without a ticket. By contrast, leaving the scene of a car accident with a serious bodily injury is a class 4 felony.
Skier collisions can be high-energy crashes and often result in severe injuries. When we see the orange flight for life helicopter headed east over the divide, we understand the gravity of the harm. When we see skiers and boarders riding at high speeds through crowded areas of the mountain, we know that but for a modicum of respect for fellow skiers, these collisions are preventable. And yet, despite legal and moral obligations to stay with the victim of a collision, we have seen an increasing number of hit-and-runs.
Perhaps penalties for hit-and-runs on the slopes should be more in line with the motor vehicle laws, and compel people to stay at the scene of an accident by threat of jail time. Perhaps if more people understood that by staying, they could significantly minimize the harm they have done at a very small personal cost, there would be less perceived incentive to flee.
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Unfortunately, there will always be some skiers and boarders who are too self-absorbed and narcissistic to consider helping someone they've hurt, no matter how great the penalty or how small the cost. Winter Park Ski Patrol is looking for one of these people. Perhaps someone reading this knows who the snowboarder in blue, black, and blond was and will be willing to help the Winter Park Ski Patrol, and the person he left broken on the snow. Winter Park Ski Patrol can be reached at (970) 726-1480.
Evan Banker is a Denver attorney specializing in ski and snowboard collision cases, and a Winter Park season pass holder.