Misleading article from the Denver Post about CO Ski areas; but also just plain wrong

I lost a lot of respect for the Denver Post today.

This is my review of an article titled Colorado system for investigating ski accidents raises concerns in the Denver Post Sunday March 17, 2013.

First of all, let’s correct the article from a legal and factual standpoint!

When someone dies or is seriously injured on a Colorado ski slope, it is ski patrollers — not trained police officers, sheriff’s deputies or forest rangers — who document and determine what happened.

This statement is false if you believe it says no one else can investigate. The statement is misleading in that it makes you think no one else investigates major accidents.

Law Enforcement Investigates Possible Crimes.

It is patrollers that investigate on behalf of the ski area. No patroller investigates on behalf of anyone else, nor can they. They have not been licensed, trained nor are they allowed to. If someone else wants to investigate, they can use the powers given to them by contract (US Forest Service) or jurisdiction (Sheriff) and investigate.

Ski Patrollers don’t determine who is at fault; they try to determine what happened. That is all they are trained to do and that is all you want them to do. Volunteers and poorly-paid hard-working men and women are ski patrollers. The have been trained to get injured people off the mountain as best they can.

Any law enforcement agency with jurisdiction could investigate if they wanted to. They do not need permission; they just access the land and go investigate.

The reason why most law enforcement agencies do not investigate was set out in the article, just not recognized as the answer to their own question the article asked.

Many times, those agencies — responsible for investigating potential criminal activity, not skiing accidents — aren’t called at all.

Unless there has been a crime, law enforcement has no duty to investigate. If they investigated every crash, they would still be working on my mountain-bike crashes from last summer on US Forest Service and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land.

Information

As a result, family members may have to accept the word of a resort employee about the circumstances that led to their relative’s death or serious injury — and typically; they need a subpoena to get even that, attorneys say.

Getting information from the resorts is difficult. Normally, the resort requires that you prove a legal need; you must be a relative or the injured person. Resorts have reasons for this. You do not want this information to go to anyone but the family because of privacy issues.

What if your relative died or was hurt at a resort? Would you be interested in having any of the following in the public domain?

·         The injured skier smelled like alcohol. His blood-alcohol level was 2.8.

·         The witness, girlfriend of the injured said…… (Spouse was home with the kids.)

·         The injured commented that’s the last time he calls in sick to work and goes skiing.

I’ve read reports with 2 of the above on the reports, and I’ve heard about the third. Is that information you want to be public about someone you love?

What about hearing about the fatality of a family member from the authorities before you read about it online? This article ignores those issues, but ski resorts try to respect the wishes of family members.

Is your need to know greater than their right to a little kindness and privacy?

What information can you get from AT&T, Exxon, or GE about their latest accidents? Unless a business is required to report certain kinds of accidents, No Business gives out its accident reports.

If you ask an attorney to get you a report, the ski area is going to respond as if the ski area is going to be sued. Consequently, when facing a lawsuit, you shut the doors. If you want a copy of the report from your or a close family member’s accident, send a letter. You won’t get names or contact information of the patrollers. It is not their job to deal with you.

Of the state’s 25 ski areas, only one — Wolf Creek Ski Area — would discuss ski-patrol training and accident investigations.

Most resorts, nationwide follow the procedures of the National Ski Patrol (NSP). Every resort differs from other ski areas, but in general, you can research how something is investigated by reviewing the NSP website and several other websites. How do you know how law enforcement investigates accidents?

The other 24 resorts either refused to answer questions regarding ski patrol or did not respond to repeated calls and e-mails from The Post.

If someone from the press, including me, is calling to ask questions, you get a little nervous. You should be nervous when I call, and I get nervous when the press calls.

While working at a resort, I received a phone call from a member of the press who said they were writing a follow-up article to one I had written for a magazine several years before. That person lied to me. They were writing an article about ski resorts and quoted me as an employee of the resort. Lesson learned.

Police jurisdiction rare

That is a very misleading heading, sorry, this is a lie. Not rare, it exists at every resort. It is just not exercised. The sole power to exercise the jurisdiction is the law enforcement agency or the district attorney. Just because they do not, does not mean jurisdiction does not exist. There is no place in the US where at least one law enforcement agency has jurisdiction. The hard thing is finding places in the US were only one law enforcement agency has jurisdiction.

The nice thing about the above heading is just the start of an entire misleading paragraph.

Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade group representing all of the ski areas except the four owned by Vail Resorts, said in an e-mail….

Colorado Ski County USA is a marketing group. Its job and why it is paid by the Colorado Ski resorts is to get skiers to ski in Colorado. If you don’t believe me, go to the website and read why it exists: http://rec-law.us/ZoYVRs

Only a few local police departments have any jurisdiction over ski areas, and sheriff’s offices in Summit, San Miguel, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt and Eagle counties said their role is primarily to determine whether an incident involves a crime — such as theft, public intoxication or disruption — or a collision between slope users.

See the above statement about jurisdiction. The statement in the article is absolutely wrong and very misleading. It implies that the ski resorts operate without any law enforcement agency watching what they do. That is not true. If you could find a place where no law enforcement had jurisdiction in the US it would be crowded, full of pot plants and a lot of illegal guns. There would also be hundreds of cops waiting for someone to leave.

Summit County sheriff’s deputies don’t “respond to the majority of skier accidents. If it’s a death, the coroner would respond,” said spokeswoman Tracy LeClair. “Ski patrol usually handles the majority of noncriminalaccidents.”

Let’s look at this article this way.  Who investigates accidents in your house? At least at ski areas, someone does. If there is a fatality at your house, then the same person investigates the fatality in your house as at the slopes: A coroner, unless the accident or fatality is a criminal act.

A coroner’s job is to declare people dead (C.R.S. § 30-10-601) and to determine the cause of death if it is not known or suspicious or from specific causes. (C.R.S. § 30-10-606)

“Ski patrol is there before us. Sometimes, the injured person has been evacuated before we arrive,” he said. “We have to rely on ski patrol and their analysis quite often.”

Thank Heavens! Seriously do you want to wait on the slope with a broken leg or a torn ligament until law enforcement drives from the sheriff’s office puts on skis or unloads a snow machine and comes up the slopes to you?

That is why we have the ski patrol; to get injured people to medical care. Can you see the lawsuit if this occurred? “Sorry mam, I can’t move you with that broken leg until the sheriff investigates.”

If you fall down in your house, do you call the police or the ambulance? If you fall down on the ski slopes do you call the sheriff or the ski patrol?

Sometimes, ski areas don’t give law enforcement information needed for an investigation. In 2004, a Colorado State Patrol sergeant was called to Vail to look into a fatal collision between a 13-year-old skier and an employee-driven snowmobile. He had never investigated a ski injury or fatality.

Sgt. S.J. Olmstead was assigned to the case because county law enforcement “didn’t want to deal with it,” he said in a 2006 deposition. “So somebody had to go take care of it.”

First: The story itself says there have been 47 deaths within five years (from my count of the red dots on the map.) How many police officers would have experience in investigating fatalities that occur on ski resorts?

Second: Vail is the largest employer in Eagle County. Probably, the Eagle County Sheriff’s department saw the fatality the article speaks to as a conflict of interest. Maybe the sheriff’s department knew the snowmobile driver’ or the snowmobile driver’s family. Or members of the sheriff’s department witnessed the accident. There could be dozens of things that triggered a conflict of interest issue in the mind of the Eagle county Sheriff’s department.

And thank heavens it did. Would you buy 100% any report when the Eagle County Sheriff’s department investigates a crime in the ski area of the county’s largest employer who had obvious conflicts of interest?

If you want ski accidents investigated by trained personnel, then contact your representative and have them create a law that says the sheriff’s office shall investigate all ski accidents. (Have fun paying for that one also.)

Third: If you have ever watched TV and watched a cop show, when an arrest is made the bad guy is given their Miranda Warnings, their legal rights. They have the right to remain silent. Vail, could have been held liable for the death, criminally; consequently, during a criminal investigation, the possible criminal should keep their mouth shut!

Ski areas consider ski-patrol and employee reports to be proprietary information. Therefore, victims or their families or law enforcement agencies cannot obtain them without the resorts’ permission — or a court order.

That information is not considered proprietary information, that information is proprietary information. My notes are proprietary information. The recipe you wrote down on a 3 x 5 card is proprietary or confidential information. Work you produce for work is proprietary information.

And again, do you really want your great Aunt Sally learning that her niece died in a ski accident because she was drunk?

I won’t give up my documents to anyone.

What about the rights of the deceased or the deceased family. Information in that report could be embarrassing. Deceased had a blood alcohol level of XX.X. Deceased was skiing with his girlfriend, while his wife was working. Deceased was supposed to be at work. Do you want that information floating around to members of the media or just nosey people?

The press has this idea that they should be entitled to anything they want to report a story. They don’t. There are laws that say what the media, the police and/or any other group can get from a private party or a business.

Then the article starts to complain because the ski patrol investigates an accident, and the cops don’t. The cops plead that they have a hard time getting reports from the ski patrol.

Have you tried getting a police report about an accident from a law enforcement agency? If the police want a report, they should go do it. It takes them a while to get to the far ends of the county, and it takes them a while to hike into the back country or get up the hill at a ski resort. It is a fact of life of a state with lots of wilderness and open space.

Despite the power that ski patrols have,…

What power? The power of the ski patrol is solely the power to transport an injured person down the hill and yank lift tickets of reckless skiers. They are not vested with power or given power by anyone to do anything.

The ski patrol does not have the power to detain someone who is involved in a skier v. skier collision, let alone any other power.

Accident Investigations?

This big issue with accident investigations is confusing. I’ve never had anyone investigate my mountain-bike crashes on US Forest Service land. I’ve never had someone investigate my back-country ski injuries. I’ve never had someone investigate my injuries from rock climbing. Yet there seems to be a big push in the article that 1) accident investigations are not being done and 2) if they are being done they are not being done right.

Automobile accidents are investigated because state statutes require law enforcement to investigate accidents, the damage done and the accidents occur on state land.

Automobile accidents have skid marks, car crumple zones, little black boxes, and tests that show when you hit a guard rail this way at this speed it looks like this. It snows; the wind blows and ski tracks look like every other ski track and are usually wiped out by snowboard tracks. Unless you hit a tree AND leave a mark on the tree or your body it is difficult to determine what happens.

One time in the past, I reviewed an investigation, and then did my own investigation into an accident. I talked to the injured skier and his spouse about what happened. The injured skier did not remember, and we never did figure out how the skier got hurt.

If there is a statute for someone, law enforcement to investigate accidents, then I’m sure their investigations will be better and professionally done. Right now, Ski Patrol accident investigations are done to help the ski area protect itself. The ski patrol is not tasked with any other duty by anyone.

A ski patroller’s job is to determine facts, not guess at what happened.

There is no law, no duty, and no requirement that any accident be investigated.

Accident Investigation Training

The article hits the accident investigation hard by comparing the training to that of National Park Rangers. Rangers are the law enforcement arm of the National Park Service. The job of a Ranger is basically to write tickets and arrest people for major crimes. They are law enforcement. There are statutes and regulations that empower them, command them and require them to investigation accidents and make arrests.

The article also tackles the contractual relationship between the US Forest Service and Vail, quoting from the contract. I would like to see the Denver Post contract with its writers and suppliers. I suspect that if you slam the Denver Post in an article, your career at the post is short lived.

The Bad

The ski industry is paranoid. I’ve been saying it for years. Too paranoid. However, I understand how that paranoia develops. When articles like misstate the facts and make things up, it would make you paranoid also.

As much as ski areas are paranoid the attorneys representing ski areas and the companies insuring ski areas are even more paranoid. They believe it is better not to say anything.

After this article, I understand why.

The Really Bad

The really bad is how misleading this article is. It is a veiled attempt to accomplish some goals, which are unknown at this time.

This article wasted a lot of paper and electrons attempting to make ski areas in Colorado look bad. Ski Areas in Colorado are the finest in the US. Ski Areas in Colorado are no different from any other business. The business has a duty to make a profit, and protect itself from bad publicity and lawsuits. Nothing in this article proved ski resorts did anything wrong or that any other corporation in the US does.

Read the article, the scary part is people out there believe the writer knows what they are talking about.

Disclaimer

No one paid me to write this, no one told me how to write this, no one asked me to write this. However we all have to learn that when we see or smell crap we should clean it up.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Copyright 2012 Recreation Law (720) Edit Law

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By Recreation Law          Rec-law@recreation-law.com   James H. Moss                  Jim Moss

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One Comment on “Misleading article from the Denver Post about CO Ski areas; but also just plain wrong”

  1. [...] Misleading article from the Denver Post about CO Ski areas; but also just plain wrong → [...]


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