2017 Winners of the National Outdoor Book Awards have been Announced.

 Outdoor Literature

Fly Rod of Your OwnWinner.  A Fly Rod of Your Own.  By John Gierach.  Simon and Schuster, New York.
ISBN 9781451618341

There’s no better way to bring back memories of your own fishing trips than to read of some by John Gierach.  He has a warm, inviting quality to his writing that makes him such a pleasure to read.  In honoring this book, the judges also wanted to recognize Gierach’s body of work which now totals more than 20 previous books.  His themes are simple: a favorite stream near home, a missed cast just when everything is perfect, a culinary misadventure on a trip.  With a wave of his writer’s wand, simple stories become utterly absorbing, and you find yourself captured by his magic, reading well into the night.

On TrailsWinner.  On Trails: An Exploration.  By Robert Moor.  Simon and Schuster, New York.
ISBN 9781476739236

Author Robert Moor has a thing with trails.  It’s a fascination of sorts that began on a five-month, 2,200-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Those miles and miles of trail passing beneath his feet gave him plenty of time to think, and upon finishing the hike Moor set off on another journey, this one of the intellectual kind, researching the concept of trails.  His investigations quickly move him beyond the realm of hiking to the use of trails by insects, mammals and ancient humans.  Through it all, Moor’s observations on trails are fresh, thought provoking, erudite, and full of delightful surprises.


No BarriersHonorable Mention.  No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon.  By Erik Weihenmayer and Buddy Levy.  Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.  New York.
ISBN 9781250088789

Imagine paddling a kayak into the biggest rapid in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.  The sound is deafening.  Mammoth waves toss your kayak about like it’s a toy.  Then imagine paddling into those waves completely blind, not knowing when the next wave is coming or from where.  Born with a rare eye disease which left him blind at the age of 13, Erik Weihenmayer takes on the rapids of the Colorado—and other adventures—in this stirring and inspiring book.  It may be a cliché, but not for Weihenmayer.  He turns the notion of impossible upside down and reveals that all is possible.




Art of FreedomWinner. Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka.  By Bernadette McDonald.  Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC.
ISBN  9781771602129

In this masterpiece of a biography, Bernadette McDonald chronicles the life of Voytek Kurtyka who pushed the boundaries of mountaineering to its very limits.  He grew up in Poland and lived during a time of upheaval:  of communist domination and its eventual downfall.  Kurtyka is a reflection of those turbulent times, buying and selling on the black market to make a living, and scheming ways to outwit party bureaucrats to undertake climbing expeditions.  Known for his bold and lightning-fast ascents of big, unclimbed walls in the Himalaya, Kurtyka is a thoughtful and private individual and has largely shunned the limelight.  Fortunately, McDonald was able to conduct interviews with Kurtyka as well as undertake exhaustive research.  The result of her efforts is a work of outstanding artistry and a powerful and moving portrait of Kurtyka’s life.


 Natural History Literature

TidesWinner. Tides:  The Science and Spirit of the Ocean.  By Jonathan White.  Trinity University Press, San Antonio.  ISBN  9781595348050

The regular ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide is not easily explained—unless it is Jonathan White who’s doing the explaining.  In fact, White makes the science of tides an adventure. He takes you along as he travels the globe, seeking out the unusual and dangerous.  In Alaska’s Kalinin Bay, he struggles to save his 65-foot wooden schooner which the tides have left laying on its side in the mud.  With an Inuit hunter in northern Canada, he squeezes through a small hole into a cavity under the sea ice to gather mussels, nervously counting the minutes as the cavity begins filling with the incoming tide.  And in China, he sprints to high ground to avoid a 25-foot tidal bore barreling up a river.  White does what an excellent writer can do, lure you into an unfamiliar world, take you on adventures, change you with intriguing images and ideas.


 Nature and the Environment

Monarchs and MilkweedWinner. Monarchs and Milkweed.  By Anurag Agrawal.  Princeton University Press, Princeton.  ISBN 9780691166353

Who can’t admit being captivated by the monarch?  We are attracted by its beauty, of course, and by its amazing migration that can exceed 3,000 miles.  But there is something else that makes the monarch fascinating, and that is its perilous relationship with its main food source, the milkweed.  As it turns out, milkweed is toxic, and while monarchs have adapted to its toxicity, the plant is still able to marshall its defenses, killing off monarch larvae by various means.  In this colorfully illustrated work, Agrawal covers the scientific work behind this combative relationship, among which includes some of his own pioneering studies.  Monarchs and Milkweed is not only about a butterfly, but it also gives us a peek into the mind of an inventive scientist, one who clearly admires his subject and who guides us to a better understanding of this most remarkable creature.


Pipestone WolvesHonorable Mention.  The Pipestone Wolves:  The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family.  By Günther Bloch.  Photography by John E. Marriott.  Rocky Mountain Books, Vancouver, BC.  ISBN  9781771601603

Some 20 years ago, a new wolf family moved into the Bow Valley of Banff National Park and ended up dominating the area for the next five years.  This book is about the investigations of two dedicated field researchers into that wolf family, and thanks to their efforts we know a great deal more about the dynamics of wolf packs and wolf families.  Later chapters deal with the eventual collapse of the Pipestone wolves and how human activity contributed to it.  Researcher and writer, Günther Bloch pulls no punches when he discusses the management of wolves and other wildlife in Banff.  It is the old dilemma of how to maintain a healthy environment for animals in the face of a growing human population.  It is hoped that, at the least, key aspects of his research will lead to management improvements.


 Classic Category

KingBird HighwayWinner.  Kingbird Highway:  The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder.  By Kenn Kaufman. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.  ISBN 9780618709403

In January of 1972, a month shy of his 18th birthday, Kenn Kaufman left his home in Kansas and hitched a ride to Texas.  He was a high school dropout with little money and few prospects for the future.  Nevertheless, driven and single-minded, Kaufman was embarking on a quest, a quest far removed from that of a typical 18-year old.  He was out to establish the record for the most birds identified in the US in one year.  This is the story of that year-long quest:  of living on pennies a day, of hitch hiking from one end of the country to the other, and of sleeping under bridges—and yet slowly, he filled his lists with birds.  And what of his uncertain future?  He didn’t do too badly.  Have you heard of the Kaufman guides, that popular series of bird, mammal and insect guides which have sold in the thousands?  Oh yes, that’s the same Kaufman.



 Design & Artistic Merit

Wild EncountersWinner. Wild Encounters: Iconic Photographs of the World’s Vanishing Animals and Cultures.   Photography and Commentary by David Yarrow.  Rizzoli, New York. 
ISBN 9780847858323

David Yarrow is one of the virtuosos of black and white wildlife photography.  His art has graced galleries from Europe to North America.  In this large format, portfolio-sized book, you’ll be treated to some of his finest work.  Arranged by the latitude of locale, his dramatic monochromatic photographs of wild and endangered animals appear to leap from the page.  Some of the most powerful images are tightly framed close-ups in which almost every hair of the animal can be seen.  The emphasis of the book is on wildlife, but he also features people who live in close proximity with the creatures he photographs, and included among those are stunning portrayals of the Inuit in northern Canada and the stately Dinka people of the South Sudan.  You won’t be disappointed.  This is truly the work of an artist at the height of his powers.


 Children’s Category

Pup the Sea OtterWinner.  Pup the Sea Otter.  By Jonathan London.  Illustrated by Sean London.  WestWinds Press/Graphic Arts Books, Portland.
ISBN 978194332887

This delightful book, the work of a father and son team, is about a ball of fur called Pup.  Jonathan London tells the story of a newly born sea otter, while his son Sean, a gifted illustrator, provides color and form to the story with his tender and eye-catching paintings.   Pup grows and learns how to forage for food, all under the watchful eye of his mom.  Children will love the dialog:  slurp, slurp, slurp; munch, crunch, munch.  There’s even some danger and excitement when a shark appears, but it all turns out fine when—you guessed it—mom comes to the rescue.  For ages 4-8.


TreecologyHonorable Mention.  Treecology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Trees and Forests.  By Monica Russo.  Photographs by Kevin Byron.  Chicago Review Press, Chicago.  ISBN 9871613733967 

This wonderful learning book about trees is for budding naturalists age seven and older.  Chapters typically start with a discussion of some aspect of tree biology which, in turn, is followed by one or more hands-on activities related to the discussion.  The activities are fun and designed to help children develop their own writing, drawing and literacy skills.  It is colorful, nicely designed, and perfect for a learning adventure in a nearby woods.



Long TrailsWinner. Backpacker Long Trails:  Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike.  By Liz Thomas.  Falcon Guides, Lanham, MD.  ISBN 9871493028726

Every so often a book comes along, finds broad acceptance, and becomes the bible of a sport.  This book is destined to rise to that position among long-trail hiking guides.  Authored by Liz Thomas who has hiked the big three—Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest—this comprehensive work is literally brimming full of practical advice for backpackers planning to spend weeks on the trail.  In addition to Thomas’s fine writing, sidebars written by other experienced hikers offer alternative ideas and strategies.  If you have a hankering to go on a long hike, there’s no question about it.  This is the one book that you’ll want to read before you go.


Big Walls, Swift WatersWinner.  Big Walls, Swift Waters:  Epic Stories from Yosemite Search and Rescue.  By Charles R. “Butch” Farabee.  Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite National Park, CA.  ISBN 9781930238749

Big Walls, Swift Waters is a little bit of everything.  It’s a history, a compilation of case studies, and an instructional guide about rescue equipment and techniques.  Well illustrated with photographs from past rescues, author Charles “Butch” Farabee documents many of the classic search and rescues that have occurred in Yosemite National Park.  It’s a fascinating, insider’s view of rescue, and you’ll find yourself rappelling out of helicopters, hanging on granite walls, and plunging into icy waters.



 Nature Guidebooks

Scout's Guide to Wild EdiblesWinner.  The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles.  By Mike Krebill.  St. Lynn’s Press, Pittsburg.
ISBN  9781943366064

Sometimes good guidebooks come in small packages.  The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles almost fits in a back pocket, and yet, for its relatively small size, it packs in a lot of information.  Author Mike Krebill knows his wild edibles, and he knows how to make a guidebook fun for young people.  A wild food expert and a Scout leader, he divides the book into two parts:  the first is the identification guide profiling 40 widely found edible wild plants and mushrooms.  The second half consists of recipes and ways of cooking wild foods.  In this last half boys and girls are pictured preparing and cooking plants that they have gathered on their outdoor forays.  It’s oriented to the younger set, of course, but adults just might want to sneak one along on the next outing.  They’ll find it pretty handy too.


Butterflies of PennsylvaniaWinner.  Butterflies of Pennsylvania:  A Field Guide.  By James L. Monroe and David M. Wright.  University of Pittsburg Press, Pittsburg. 
ISBN 9780822964551

Butterflies of Pennsylvania is one of those guidebooks that sets out with a purpose and ends up doing it well.  What appealed to the judges is that all of the information on a butterfly species is covered on a single page or a two-page spread.  There’s no need to look elsewhere for maps and other information.  The photos are crisp.  The text is clear, and the maps and charts easy to use.  If you live in Pennsylvania or in surrounding states, this fine guidebook is a must-have.



 Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks

Outdoor Adventures Acadia National ParkWinner.  Outdoor Adventures, Acadia National Park: Your Guide to the Best Hiking, Biking and Paddling.  By Jerry and Marcy Monkman.  Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston. 
ISBN 9781628420579

Situated along the rugged coastline of Maine, Acadia National Park is truly a Northeast treasure.  It’s the oldest designated national park area east of the Mississippi River and has a little of everything:  125 miles of hiking trails, 45 miles of historic carriage roads, rocky mountains, ponds, islands and dense evergreen forests.  One of the best ways to enjoy it is with this guidebook by Jerry and Marcy Monkman.  The Monkman’s are accomplished Eastern writers and photographers, and in this guide, they have detailed 50 choice hiking, biking and paddling trips.  There’s even a two-sided 20” x 25” full color map which can be removed from the back cover and which shows all of the routes covered in the book.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 National Outdoor book Awards



Outdoor Literature



Winner. Fast Into the Night:  A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail.  By Debbie Clarke Moderow.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston.  ISBN 978054448412

In this beautifully written and moving account, Debbie Moderow whisks you away on a dogsled across Alaska.  Her interest in dogs began quite innocently when a friend gave their family a “retired” sled dog by the name of Salt.  Salt came just at a perfect time, helping Moderow recover from the depression following a second miscarriage.  The family took in more dogs, and in a roundabout way, Moderow ended up entering Alaska’s famous Iditarod race.  There’s adventure, of course, and plenty of it on the thousand-mile Iditarod trail, but what makes this book so appealing is the connection between Moderow and her dogs.  We come to learn their names, their personality quirks, and the warmth and love that she shares with each of them. 



Honorable Mention.  Portage: A Family, a Canoe and the Search for the Good Life. By Sue Leaf.  University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.  ISBN 9780816698547

Sue Leaf knows her way around a canoe, but what’s even better from our standpoint is that she is a gifted story teller.  In this collection of writings spanning 35 years, Leaf takes ordinary canoe trips and brings them alive.  Weaving the stories around family life, and natural and cultural history, her trips range from her home state of Minnesota to Canada to the bayous of Louisiana.  Yes, it is all about the good life, and one that Leaf has captured so well.




Natural History Literature



Winner. A Sea of Glass:  Searching for the Blaschkas’ Fragile Legacy in an Ocean at Risk.  By Drew Harvell.  University of California Press, Oakland, CA.  ISBN 9780520285682

They were very old, created in the mid 1800’s, but they were absolutely exquisite.  Stored away in a Cornell University warehouse for years, they were glass replicas of marine invertebrates, the spineless creatures of the sea.  They had been created by the great glass flower artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka of central Europe.  The delicate replicas were so life-like that upon first seeing them author Drew Harvell was mesmerized by their beauty.  As a professor of evolutionary biology, Harvell was well acquainted with the invertebrates, and she began to wonder if man’s activities in connection with the ocean have had any effect on the populations of animals represented by Blaschkas’ replicas.  That sets Harvell off on a journey of discovery, one in which you become an eyewitness, as she dives into the mysterious depths of the seas.






Winner. The Ghosts of K2: The Epic Saga of the First Ascent.  By Mick Conefrey.  Oneworld Publications, London.  ISBN 9781780745954

Of all the highest mountains in the world, K2 ranks among the most difficult and dangerous.  It’s not only the peak’s rarified air and exposed flanks that are responsible for its reputation, but violent storms can suddenly materialize, trapping climbers for days on end.  Using newly available source materials and interviews with surviving team members of past expeditions, author Mick Conefrey skillfully re-constructs a vivid and gripping history of the mountain.




Honorable Mention.  Continental Divide: A History of American Mountaineering.  By Maurice Isserman.  W. W. Norton, New York.  ISBN 9780393068504

There are several comprehensive historic works on American mountaineering and climbing, but Maurice Isserman ups the ante with this book.  Part of the book’s appeal is the way he approaches the subject, deftly blending notable achievements in the climbing world with social and cultural history.  Works such as this can easily drag after the first couple of chapters, but not this one.  Isserman has a lively and engaging writing style which holds one’s attention and keeps the pages turning.



Honorable Mention.  Valley Walls: A Memoir of Climbing & Living in Yosemite.  By Glen Denny.  Yosemite Conservancy. Yosemite National Park.  ISBN 9781930238633

They were an unkempt bunch.  Some of them went days on end without bathing.  They were the denizens of that notorious campground in Yosemite called Camp 4 who pioneered the techniques and equipment of modern day big wall climbing.  In the 1960’s, author Glen Denny was there, taking many of the era’s iconic photographs and making some of his own notable first ascents.  Valley Walls is his engrossing and memorable story of those raucous days.



Design and Artistic Merit



Winner. The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature.  Photography by Gerrit Vyn.  Design by Jane Jeszeck. Essays by Scott Weidensaul, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, John W. Fitzpatrick, and Jared Diamond.  Mountaineers Books (Seattle) in conjunction with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (New York).  ISBN 9781594859656

From one of the leading ornithology labs comes a book with extraordinary design and breathtaking imagery.  Within the pages of this elegant book, master photographer Gerrit Vyn and leading naturalists, explore the fascinating world of birds.   It’s not just Vyn’s accomplished photography — though the book could stand alone on Vyn’s art alone — it is also filled with up-to-date facts, and insightful and satisfying writing.  This is a superior production in every respect.  If you have just one book on birds in your library, you can’t make a better choice than this one.



Winner.  Yosemite in the Fifties: The Iron Age.  Design by Tom Adler and Evan Backes.  Photo Editing by Dean Fidelman.  Edited by John Long.  Patagonia Books, Ventura, CA.  ISBN 9781938340482

Two words come to mind in describing this handsomely done, large format book: visual celebration.  What it celebrates are the highly inventive years of the 1950’s when climbers in Yosemite pushed the boundaries of what was possible, all the while experimenting and creating new tools of the trade.  The photos are drawn from a wide variety of original sources and fit comfortably into the book’s crisp graphic design.  Enhancing the overall appeal of the book is the inclusion of classic writings authored by climbers of the time period.  All in all, it’s a striking work which captivates from the first page all the way to the last thought-provoking photograph on the back cover. 



Honorable Mention.  Todd and Brad Reed’s Michigan: Wednesdays in the Mitten.  Photography by Todd & Brad Reed.  Design by Todd & Brad Reed, Sarah Genson and Rachel Gaudette.  Cover by Misty Reed.  Todd & Brad Reed Photography, LCC., Ludington, MI.  ISBN 9781495152139.

Page through this book and you’ll be immediately impressed:  both with its beauty and its size.  It is large, larger than typical large format books.  That’s because the father and son team of Todd and Brad Reed deserve an expansive canvas on which to display their art.  Within the book’s covers are a series of stunning photographs that were taken on every Wednesday throughout a one year period.  This is photographic virtuosity of the highest order and a compelling tribute to the state of Michigan




Nature and the Environment



Winner. Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees. By Lori Weidenhammer.  Douglas & McIntyre, Madeira Park, BC.  ISBN 9781771620536

During World War I and II, many people planted “victory gardens.”  It was way in which individuals could help the war effort by supplementing their country’s food supply.  In this splendidly designed and photographed book, Lori Weidenhammer suggests that victory gardens are again necessary, but for a different reason: to help resolve the shortage of forage and shelter faced by bees.  The book serves as an instructional guide — text, graphics and photographs perfectly meshing together — describing how anyone, even with limited space, can create their own sanctuary for bees. 



Children’s Category



Winner. Chasing at the Surface:  A Novel.  By Sharon Mentyka.  WestWinds Press/Graphic Arts Books, Portland.  ISBN 9781943328604

In this 220-page novel for young adults, 12-year old Marisa’s world is thrown into confusion when her mom leaves on a mysterious trip.  A school science project monitoring a pod of whales helps take her mind off her worries.  As Marisa learns more about whales, she begins to understand the delicate life-and-death balance facing these creatures of the deep.  Her interest and passion for the whales grows, but events take a turn for the worse when the whales become trapped because of human activity.  The story comes to a climax as Marisa plays a role in helping the whales escape back into the wild, and her mother returns and reveals a long held secret.



Honorable Mention.  Wake Up, Island.  By Mary Casanova.  Woodcuts by Nick Wroblewski.  University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.  ISBN 9780816689354

If you’re looking for the perfect book to read aloud to young children, look no further.  The story is about the natural world coming awake in the early morning: the sun peeking above the horizon, pine trees stretching,and deer rising from their grassy beds.  Wake Up, Island is a joy to read with its fun word play and animal
sounds — like:  squirrels chattering chitter-chee and chickadees calling dee dee dee.  Nick Wroblewski’s gorgeous woodcuts are the icing on the cake and will have children wide-eyed and eager to point out their favorite creatures.






Winner. Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. By Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers.  Puma Press, Flagstaff, AZ.  ISBN 9780984785803

Originally published in 2001, Over the Edge has since sold well over a quarter million copies.  Meticulously researched, it categorizes fatalities and near misses into several groupings including falls, flash floods, river running accidents, and freak mishaps such as lightning and rock falls.  Yes, it is fascinating reading — if somewhat chilling, especially if you happen to be hiking or boating in the Grand Canyon area while reading it.  But its true value lies in the authors’ thoughtful analysis of accidents and their causes — most of which, we learn, are preventable and occur again and again.  There’s no such thing as perfect safety in the desert and canyon environment, but by learning from exceptional works as this one, we can certainly tip the odds in our favor. 



Nature Guidebooks



Winner. Mushrooms of the Northeast: A Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms.  By Teresa Marrone and Walt Sturgeon.  Adventure Publications, Cambridge, MN.  ISBN 9781591935919

There’s a lot to like about this small guide, starting with its size — it will fit easily in the pocket of a pack for use in the field.  The book is nicely organized into sections by the mushroom’s shape for ease of identification.  Safety is front and center throughout, and that’s underscored with the two most important categories leading off the identification chapters:  edible and toxic mushrooms.  Moreover, from start to finish the authors are careful to point out when an edible mushroom might be confused with a toxic one.  Written in a straightforward, no-nonsense style, this is the right book for aspiring mushroomers.



Honorable Mention.  Pacific Seaweeds:  A Guide to the Common Seaweeds of the West Coast.  By Louis D. Druehl and Bridgette E. Clarkston.  Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC.  ISBN 9781550177374

If you’ve ever wondered about the names of seaweeds that have washed up on shore, this is the guide to reach for.  Of the several methods employed by the authors to aid your identification efforts, one of the most clever is the way seaweeds are photographed.  The book often portrays a seaweed held in a hand or draped over a finger.  That not only helps provide size perspective but it also personalizes the process of identifying it.  It’s what you would see when holding a specimen in your own hand.  What plainly comes through in this book is that the authors are enthusiastic and passionate about these plants of the sea.  They’ve even included an extra treat for your culinary pleasure: a series of sea vegetable recipes.  Bon appétit!




Outdoor Adventure Guidebooks



Winner. Hiking Acadia National Park: A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures.  By Dolores Kong and Dan Ring.  Falcon Guides, Guilford, CT.  ISBN 9781493016617

There’s nothing like Maine’s Acadia National Park.  From its shoreside walks to the commanding view from the highest mountain on the Atlantic seaboard, it’s a place that inspires and regenerates the soul.  One nice feature to Dolores Kong and Dan Ring’s guidebook is the way they have organized hikes according to interest: best hikes for great views, or hikes for children, or dogs, history buffs, peak baggers, or ocean lovers.  It’s all there in one compact package with thoughtful design, clear maps, and straightforward trail descriptions.






Honorable Mention. Winter in the Wilderness:  A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills.  By Dave Hall with Jon Ulrich.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.  ISBN 9780801479953

There’s nothing fancy here.  No frills.  No colorful graphics.  How best to describe it?  It’s is like having a conversation with Northeastern survival expert Dave Hall.  You ask a question and Hall responds with his thoughts.  He might explain the finer points of building a fire (which he demonstrates using what he calls a “fire burrito”).  Or he might offer his opinion on the pros and cons of different snow shelters.  It’s informal, unaffected, and plain good advice.



Official NOBA reviews prepared by Ron Watters.  Reviews are based on comments and insights provided by members of the judging panels.  A special thanks to Katherine Daly for her editorial work. 



Crystal Atamian, Spokane Valley, WA
 Editor, writer and wildlife educator.  Creator and author of Duck Duck Moose, a blog about nature and family.  Former Assistant Book Review Editor for ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment.   Former writer for Reno News & Review. Master of Arts in Literature and Environment.

Natalie Bartley, Boise, ID
Freelance outdoor writer/photographer/editor and certified Nordic ski instructor. Active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. Doctorate in Recreation and Leisure Services from University of Utah. Author of Best Easy Day Hikes Boise and Best Rail Trails Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and Boise’s Best Outdoor Adventures mobile app travel guide.

Virginia Barlow, Corinth, VT
Consulting forester and founder of Redstart Forestry. Co-founder, writer and editor of Northern Woodlands Magazine (20 years). Currently active in land conservation work and all things natural. Author of The Nature of the Islands about the flora, fauna and sea life of the Caribbean.

Jeff Cramer, Lincoln, MA
 Curator of Collections at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods.  Editor of Thoreau on Freedom: Attending to the Man, Selected Writings of Henry David Thoreau, and an annotated edition of Walden.

Val Cunningham, St. Paul, MN
 Naturalist, freelance writer and editor, leads local bird hikes and conducts bird surveys for Audubon. Author of The Gardener’s Hummingbird Book. Regular columnist for Outdoor News and Minneapolis StarTribune. Writes for local, regional and national nature and bird-oriented publications.

Jim & Sara Fullerton, St. Petersburg, FL

 Past president of the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.  Doctorate in Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.   Assistant Professor for management and leadership development at the College of Coastal Georgia.  Twenty years experience as an outdoor adventure leader.  His wife Sara who assists with judging the children’s category is an elementary school teacher and has worked in a children’s bookstore.

Dale Harrington, Boone, NC
 Biology instructor at Caldwell Community College.  Naturalist.  Former trip leader for Appalachian State University. Avid mountaineer and hiker.

Rob Jones, Salt Lake City, UT
 Director of the University of Utah Outdoor Recreation Program.  Former president Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.  Certified Utah river guide and Leave No Trace Master Educator.

Rodney Ley, Fort Collins, CO
 Director for Outdoor Programs at Colorado State University.  Former outdoor columnist for Gannett newspapers.  Founder of a backcountry ski yurt system.  Former board member, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

Kate Mapp, Heber City, UT
 Head Librarian, Summit Country Library, Kama Branch.  Former Lead Wilderness Ranger for the US Forest Service (5 years).   Level III ski patroller and former president of the Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association.  Reviewer for “Women Writing in the West” Book Awards.

John Miles, El Prado, NM
 Former Dean and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies, Huxley College, Western Washington University.  Author of six books, most recently Wilderness in National Parks: Playground or Preserve.  Currently researching books on national parks and the history of the youth conservation movement.

Jill Morgan, Cynthiana, KY
 Publisher of Purple House Press specializing in classic children’s books.  Supervises book layout, design and production.  Lives on an old dairy farm with her husband, three children, and an assortment of dogs and cats.  Past president of the local Humane Society.

Susanne Dubrouillet Morais, Raleigh, NC
 Assistant Professor, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at North Carolina State University.  Formerly, program director and instructor at Penn State University working with recreation majors and overseeing Penn State’s Wilderness Orientation Program.  Past program director with Clemson University’s Clemson Expeditions.  Masters of Education in Outdoor Education.

James Moss, Littleton, CO
 Outdoor industry attorney, risk management consultant, author and speaker.  Chair, American Alpine Club Library Committee.  Board of directors of the Galapagos Preservation Society, and Colorado Alliance of Environmental Education.  Teaches ski area risk assessment, liability and safety at Colorado Mountain College.  Author of Outdoor Recreation Risk Management, Insurance and Law.

Tom Mullin, Unity ME
 Fellow of the National Association for Interpretation.  Associate Professor of Parks and Forest Resources at Unity College.  Consultant for a series of twenty Time-Life nature books.  1987 Thru-hiker of the 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail.

Tammie L. Stenger-Ramsey, Bowling Green, KY
 Associate Professor, Recreation Administration and Outdoor Leadership at Western Kentucky University.  Leave No Trace Master Educator.  American Canoe Association Canoe Instructor.  Student Literary Award Coordinator for the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.

Ron Watters, Pocatello, ID
Chairman, National Outdoor Book Awards.  Author of eight outdoor books (Never Turn Back, Ski Camping, The Whitewater Book, etc.)  Formerly, Director of the Idaho State University Outdoor Program (25 years).

Ingrid Wicken, Norco, CA
 Founder and Director of the California Ski Library.  Author of works on the history of skiing (Lost Ski Areas, Pray for Snow: The History of Skiing in Southern California, etc.).  Professor of Kinesiology at Moreno Valley College.

Melanie Wulf, St. Charles, IL
 Former director of the Outdoor Program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.  Masters in Outdoor Education from Northern Illinois University.  Certified Elementary and Middle School Teacher.



National Outdoor Book Award judging starts this week.

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See who garnered national attention because of great writing, editing and photography.

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2013 National Outdoor Book Award Winners

Some of the best books in decades.

Congratulations to the authors, photographers, editors and publishers of this years winners. To see the winners and read more about them go to:2013 National Outdoor Book Award Winners.

Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border WallEverest: The West Ridge

The California Wildlife Habitat Garden:  How to Attract Bees, Butterflies, Birds and Other Animals

Telling Our Way to the Sea:  A Voyage of Discovery in the Sea of Cortez

The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science

Wolves in the Land of Salmon

I Promise Not to Suffer:  A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail

Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table

Everest: The West Ridge.

The Emerald Mile:  The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand CanyonEmerald Mile

The Appalachian Trail: Celebrating America’s Hiking Trail

A World in One Cubic Foot: Portraits of Biodiversity

Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana

The Kid’s Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up

Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 58 National Parks

Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Moving Across Snow

Butterflies of Indiana:  A Field Guide

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

The Field Guide to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

A great year of books!

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If you agree to the rules you have to follow the rules

Sanctioning body said you must do XYZ, which creates a standard of care you will be judged by

McDonough v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036 (Dist. Del 1997)

Plaintiff: Arthur Mcdonough and Linda Mcdonough, in their own right and as Parents of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, deceased

Defendant: National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), U.S. Cycling Fed., and Delaware Trail Spinners

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: release

Holding: for the plaintiff, sent back for trial


In this case the deceased was racing in an Off Road [Mountain] Bike Race when he died of dehydration. The lawsuit was started by his parents against the organizations that sanctioned the race, NORBA, the race, and the race course owner. The suit alleged failure of the standards created by the sanctioning organization even though race had agreed to follow the standards.

The decedent died racing in a mountain bike race after being discovered along the race course unconscious. This was the deceased second NORBA race. There were no water or aid stations along the course. However the riders had access to their own water bottles on their bikes.

The plaintiffs argued there was no way for a beginner to access their water bottle on the course because it was so difficult unless they stopped riding. The only water available was what the participants brought with them. No physician, ambulance or emergency medical personnel at the race.

As a sanctioned race, NORBA provided defendant Delaware Trail Spinners the race organizer, with a “Pre-Event Planning Checklist.” In order to host the event the defendant Trail Spinners had to go through the checklist and agree to abide or provide the items on the checklist. The race director for Trail Spinners specifically stated that “there would be an ambulance on site and adequate water or fluids for participants and spectators before, during, and after the race.” NORBA also sends an official who according to the checklist will confirm issues and sign off on the checklist. In this case the NORBA representative did not sign off on the checklist.

To be able to race participants had to sign a one day membership to NORBA and sign a release. The court pointed out that no one explained the release to the participants. The back of the trial membership form said that everyone had to carry 8 ounces of water and that if the race exceeded sixty minutes NORBA would provide water to the race participants.

Before the race began one of the Trail Spinners race organizers, spoke to the 80 to 100 race participants. He told them without a bullhorn or PA system that there was no ambulance on site, but that one could be called if needed. He also told the contestants to be “”careful, . . . take their time” and not to “ride over your head, which means going beyond your ability.” McGroerty also told them to “watch their bodies, make sure they didn’t push themselves too hard because it was hot out.” Finally, he told them that “if they felt dizzy or nauseous, to back off, stay cool and keep from going too hard.”

The deceased was found after a search in an unconscious state off the trail. The friend called 911 from his cell phone and went and got assistance back at the race headquarters.  When he arrived back with two people to help him they started CPR. The deceased bike still had a water bottle with water in it. The deceased died of heat stroke fifteen days later.

Summary of the case

Delaware law, the state where the race was held, was the law applied to this case. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based on the release and the defense of primary assumption of the risk. Delaware merged secondary assumption of risk with comparative negligence, however Primary or express (written) assumption of risk is still a defense. The court defined the differences as:

Primary assumption, sometimes referred to as express assumption of risk, “involves the express consent to relieve the defendant of any obligation of care while secondary assumption [of risk] consists of voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk which is out of proportion to the advantage gained.”

The court quickly concluded that the summary judgment granted by the lower court should be overturned. The court felt that

…genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race.

The court reviewed the record of the case pointing out every place where the requirements set forth by the sanctioning body, NOBA were not met by the race. (Whether those issues would have made a difference was never discussed.)

The court then shifted and wrote that because it could be argued that the deceased did not understand the release was a waiver of the risks that it was a material fact, which voided the release.

In the present case, plaintiffs assert that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race. The court agrees.

The court arrived at this decision by stating the law and then interpreting it differently than all other courts had interpreted the law.

However, for the release to be effective, it must appear that the plaintiff understood the terms of the agreement, or that a reasonable person in his position would have understood the terms.

Thus, the understanding of the parties when the release was executed, in light of all the facts and circumstances, is paramount in determining whether the language is clear and unambiguous.

If you don’t understand what you are signing, then the release was not clear and unambiguous. I know of no other case that has argued that before.

So Now What?

The obvious issue here was the written documentation that required water and first aid and the documentation given to the deceased that stated water would be available where not available. Every race, camp, organization needs to develop a checklist or risk management plan so they can operate. However, as in this case, failing to follow any checklist was enough to lose the defenses of Primary Assumption of the Risk and Release and send your case to trial.

ØIf it is written down and you agree to it, you must follow it.

ØIf it is written down by an organization that you belong to or are sanctioned by, then you must agree to it.

ØIf an organization that you belong to writes a standard, then you must meet the standard!

The court then looked at these facts and was not happy. It then applied the facts in such a way that the court could find the release invalid and send it back for trial.

To see other cases where the defendant lost because they violated their trade associations standard of care see:

ACA Standards are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp                                                                             http://rec-law.us/zmKgoi

Expert Witness Report: ACA “Standards” are used by Expert for the Plaintiff in a lawsuit against a Camp                                                   http://rec-law.us/y7QlJ3

Marketing Makes Promises that Risk Management (or in this case an insurance policy) must pay for.                                                       http://rec-law.us/14MebM4

Plaintiff uses standards of ACCT to cost defendant $4.7 millionhttp://rec-law.us/11UdbEn

Trade Association Standards sink a Summer Camp when plaintiff uses them to prove Camp was negligent                                           http://rec-law.us/wszt7N

To Read other articles about standards see:

Can a Standard Impeded Inventions?                http://rec-law.us/yOcca2

Playgrounds will be flat soon                             http://rec-law.us/zGC4DZ

Staying Current                                                  http://rec-law.us/ArdsVk

Stop Feuding, I doubt, move forward anyway, I think you can.   http://rec-law.us/P763zu

This is how a standard in the industry changes          http://rec-law.us/w76X3K

Words: You cannot change a legal definition    http://rec-law.us/AbJ540


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

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McDonough v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036 (Dist. Del 1997)

McDonough v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036 (Dist. Del 1997)

Arthur Mcdonough and Linda Mcdonough, in their own right and as Parents of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, deceased, and Arthur Mcdonough in his own right and as Administrator of the Estate of Bradley Alan Mcdonough, Plaintiffs, v. National Off-Road Bicycle Assn. (NORBA), U.S. Cycling Fed., and Delaware Trail Spinners, Defendants.

C.A. No. 95-504-SLR


1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8036

June 2, 1997, Decided


DISPOSITION: Defendants’ motion for summary judgment denied.

COUNSEL: For plaintiffs: Donald Eilhu Evans, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware. Of Counsel: Edwin F. McCoy, Esquire., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

For defendants: Mason E. Turner, Esquire, of Prickett, Jones, Elliott, Kristol & Schnee, Wilmington, Delaware.

JUDGES: Sue L. Robinson, District Judge

OPINION BY: Sue L. Robinson



Date: June 2, 1997

Wilmington, Delaware

ROBINSON, District Judge


This case is a wrongful death/survival action filed as a result of Bradley McDonough’s (“McDonough”) death on August 30, 1993. Plaintiffs are Arthur and Linda McDonough, the parents of the decedent (collectively referred to as “plaintiffs”). Defendants are The National Off-Road Bicycle Association (“NORBA”), United States Cycling Federation (“Federation”), and the Delaware Trail Spinners (“Trail Spinners”). The court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Presently before the court is defendants’ motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 66) For the following reasons, defendants’ motion for summary judgment shall be denied.


[*2] In the summer of 1993, Bradley McDonough developed an interest in off-road bicycle competition. In the spring or early summer of 1993, McDonough acquired an off-road bike (also known as a mountain bike) and rode with his college friends, Randall Blaker (“Blaker”), Michael Odenwald (“Odenwald”), and Kenny Steidle (“Steidle”). (D.I. 71 at A51-A52) On August 8, 1993, McDonough, Blaker, Odenwald and Steidle participated in a NORBA sanctioned event in Windham, New York (“Windham race”). (D.I. 71 at A51) In all NORBA events, participants are required to obtain a permanent membership or a one-day trial membership. The application for the one-day membership contains a section entitled “Agreement and Release of Liability” (“release”). (D.I. 68 at A3)

On the day of the Windham race, McDonough, along with his friends, paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 71 at A 54-55; D.I. 68 at A5) In signing the release, Blaker stated that he did not really read it, but simply skimmed through it. (D.I. 71 at A54) Blaker stated that he assumed it was a release “to some degree and we understood that we were involved in a sport.” (D.I. 71 at A54-A55)

The Windham race course was [*3] basically a two lap course. (D.I. 71 at A56) McDonough and Steidle quit after one lap because they were tired. (D.I. 71 at A56) Blaker, who was behind McDonough and Steidle, also stopped after the first lap since his friends had stopped. (D.I. 71 at A56) Odenwald did not complete the race either, because his bicycle broke. (D.I. 71 at A56) All four friends had water bottles on their bikes during the race. (D.I. 71 at A54)

On August 15, 1993, McDonough and Blaker participated in another NORBA sanctioned event in Delaware, called the C & D Canal Classic (“C & D race”). (D.I. 84 at A109) The C & D race consisted of three race levels: (1) Beginners’; (2) Sport; and (3) Pro/Expert. (D.I. 71 at A22) McDonough and Blaker both entered the Beginners’ level. (D.I. 71 at A23 and A59) The Beginners’ course was a 14 mile course “over the local terrain which included steep and gradual hills, open gravel and dirt roads, and wooded trails.” (D.I. 71 at A23) The Sport and Pro/Expert courses also used the same 14 miles designated for the Beginners’ course. (D.I. 71 at A38)

The Beginners’ course was difficult because of its layout. (D.I. 71 at A38) The terrain on the Beginners’ course made it difficult [*4] for riders to access their own water without stopping. (D.I. 71 at A38) Some areas on the course were smoothed out so that riders could stop or ride slowly and access their water bottles. (D.I. 71 at 38) The course, however, did not have any neutral area where water was given out to the race contestants. (D.I. 71 at A38) The only water the race contestants could drink was the water that they brought themselves. (D.I. 71 at A38) No physician was present at the race. (D.I. 71 at A24) There was neither an ambulance nor emergency medical personnel present at the race site. (D.I. 71 at A23) Denise Dowd (“Dowd”), another participant in the Beginners’ level, stated that the course was “difficult due to the heat and humidity and layout.” (D.I. 71 at A87) Although Dowd is an avid biker and had participated in approximately 20 mountain bike races, it took her over an hour and fifteen minutes to complete the course. (D.I. 71 at A87)

Defendant Trail Spinners, a NORBA club member, received sanctioning from NORBA to promote the C & D race. In order to receive sanctioning, defendant Trail Spinners had to complete a “Pre-Event Planning Checklist” (“Checklist”) provided by NORBA. (D.I. 84 at A109-A110) [*5] The Checklist contains several questions relating to the safety precautions taken for the event. Trail Spinners, through its race director William Bowen (“Bowen”), represented on the Checklist that there would be, inter alia, emergency medical assistance on site and adequate water for the participants and spectators. (D.I. 84 at A110) Bowen specifically represented that there would be an ambulance on site and adequate water or fluids for participants and spectators before, during, and after the race. (D.I. 84 at A110) The Checklist also provided that: “A NORBA Official must be present at your event. The NORBA Official will complete their portion of the checklist before allowing the event to proceed.” (D.I. 84 at A109) The Checklist identifies Elizabeth Small (“Small”) as the NORBA Official. Small, however, did not complete her portion of the Checklist and did not sign it. (D.I. 84 at A110)

When McDonough arrived at the race site, he again paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 68 at A7) Blaker also paid for a one-day trial membership and signed the release. (D.I. 71 at A59) No one at the race site explained the documents to the race participants. (D.I. [*6] 71 at A41) The release provides in part:

I acknowledge that cycling is an inherently dangerous sport in which I participate at my own risk and that NORBA is a non-profit corporation formed to advance the sport of cycling, the efforts of which directly benefit me. In consideration of the agreement with NORBA to issue an amateur license to me, hereby on behalf of myself, my heirs, assigns and personal representatives, I release and forever discharge NORBA and the United States Cycling Federation, its employees, agents, members, sponsors, promoters, and affiliates from any and all liability, claim, loss, cost or expense, and waive any such claims against any such person or organization, arising directly or indirectly from or attributable in any legal way to any action or omission to act of any such person or organization in connection with sponsorship, organization or execution of any bicycle racing or sporting event, in which I may participate as a rider, team member or spectator.

(D.I. 68 at A5) On the back of the trial membership and release certain “Racing Regulations” are set forth. (D.I. 68 at A8). At section 4.6, NORBA recommends that each participant carry “at least [*7] 8 ounces of water.” (D.I. 68 at A8) Section 5.6 provides that neutral water will be provided for any race that exceeds 60 minutes in length. (D.I. 68 at A8)

According to James McGroerty (“McGroerty”), the President, Officer, and Co-Founder of Trail Spinners, it is commonly understood by those who participate in races that they are required to sign the release. (D.I. 71 at A45) McGroerty stated that: “Most of [his] friends who are avid racers look at the form as you are signing this paper basically saying yes, I am doing this race at my own risk on the course. If I get hurt, it’s my own fault. It’s basically the way we look at it when we sign these forms and compete in an event.” (D.I. 71 at A45) Dowd, who also signed the release that day, stated that she understood that the release was intended to protect the defendants from liability. (D.I. 71 at A89) Dowd, however, did not believe that the release was intended to relieve the defendants from providing “common sense safety precautions, particularly on site trained medical personnel with an ambulance.” (D.I. 71 at A89) Dowd stated that she would not have signed the release if she had known there was no medical assistance immediately [*8] available. (D.I. 71 at A89)

Before the start of the race, McGroerty addressed the race contestants from the hood of his car. (D.I. 71 at A38 and A42) He addressed the participants without a bullhorn. (D.I. 71 at A37) There were approximately 80 to 100 total participants in the group that raced with McDonough and Blaker. (D.I. 71 at A37 and A62) McGroerty told the race contestants that there was no ambulance on site, but that one could be called. (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty did not specifically warn the participants about heat exhaustion. (D.I. 71 at A42) Instead, McGroerty told the contestants to be “careful, . . . take their time” and not to “ride over your head, which means going beyond your ability.” (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty also told them to “watch their bodies, make sure they didn’t push themselves too hard because it was hot out.” (D.I. 71 at A42) Finally, he told them that “if they felt dizzy or nauseous, to back off, stay cool and keep from going too hard.” (D.I. 71 at A42) McGroerty did not get any questions after he addressed the participants. (D.I. 71 at A37) McGroerty testified that he does not have Red Cross, CPR or EMT certification of any kind. (D.I. 71 at A43) He [*9] also does not know the signs of exertional heat stroke. (D.I. 71 at A43)

At approximately 9:00 a.m., McDonough and Blaker left the starting line with other contestants. (D.I. 71 at A23 and A62) Both McDonough and Blaker had brought water bottles with them. (D.I. 71 at A61) The temperature on that day was “extremely hot [] with high humidity.” (D.I. 71 at A85) Although McDonough and Blaker began the race together, they were separated because Blaker had a flat tire. (D.I. 71 at A63) After Blaker changed his flat tire, he continued in the race and eventually completed the course. (D.I. 71 at A64) McDonough, however, did not. (D.I. 71 at A64)

McGroerty found McDonough when he went to investigate whether some participants had accidently or deliberately missed the course markings. (D.I. 71 at A44) McGroerty first saw McDonough’s bike. As he approached the bike, he saw McDonough who was about five or six feet from his bike. (D.I. 71 at A44) According to McGroerty, other participants would not have seen McDonough since he was off to the side of the course, but could have seen his bike. (D.I. 71 at A44)

When McGroerty found McDonough, he was on the ground lying on his side and his breathing [*10] was heavy and labored. (D.I. 71 at A44) McDonough appeared to have trouble breathing and was not responsive. (D.I. 71 at A44) According to McGroerty, McDonough appeared to be unconscious. (D.I. 71 at A44) Based on these observations, McGroerty called 911 from his cellular phone. (D.I. 71 at A44) After calling 911, McGroerty went to the start/finish area and sought assistance. (D.I. 71 at A42 and A87) He led two people back to where McDonough was found and they administered CPR until an ambulance arrived. (D.I. 71 at A42 and A87-A88) According to Dowd, one of the two people who administered CPR, no one gave McDonough any water before the ambulance arrived because no water was provided. (D.I. 71 at A88) Blaker, however, testified that when McDonough’s bike was brought back from where McDonough had been found, it still had a water bottle attached to it that was half full. (D.I. 71 at A65)

Dowd stated that the race was “generally disorganized” and that there was a lot of confusion. (D.I. 71 at A86) According to Dowd, the race was delayed for 30 minutes and no maps of the course were given to the participants or posted. (D.I. 71 at A87-A88) Small, the NORBA official on duty at the race, [*11] reported to NORBA that the “race director [Bowen] was ‘light’ in the emergency medical area.” (D.I. 84 at A110) Small also reported that no course maps were available, but that the course was adequately marked. (D.I. 84 at A110) Overall, Small stated that mistakes were made since no water was provided, no emergency medical personnel were on site, and the course was too long. (D.I. 84 at A114)

Dowd stated that it took her about 5 minutes to reach McDonough and that the ambulance arrived 10 to 15 minutes after she began administering CPR. (D.I. 71 at A88) When the ambulance arrived, McDonough was treated by paramedics and helicoptered to the Medical Center of Delaware in Christiana, Delaware. (D.I. 71 at A23) Although hospitalized, McDonough died of heat stroke on August 30, 1993. (D.I. 70 at 1)


1. Summary Judgment Standard

[HN1] Summary judgment should be granted only if a court concludes that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). [HN2] The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact is in dispute. Matsushita Elec. Indus. [*12] Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). Once the moving party has carried its initial burden, the nonmoving party “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 587. “Facts that could alter the outcome are ‘material,’ and disputes are ‘genuine’ if evidence exists from which a rational person could conclude that the position of the person with the burden of proof on the disputed issue is correct.” Horowitz v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Co., 57 F.3d 300, 302 n.1 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury reasonably to find for the nonmoving party on that factual issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, [*13] Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). This court, however, must “view the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Pennsylvania Coal Ass’n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

2. Express or Primary Assumption of Risk

[HN3] Since Delaware adopted a comparative negligence statute, 1 it has become necessary to distinguish between primary and secondary assumption of the risk. Koutoufaris v. Dick, 604 A.2d 390, 397 (Del. 1992); cf. Bib v. Merlonghi, 252 A.2d 548, 550 (Del. 1969) Primary assumption, sometimes referred to as express assumption of risk, “involves the express consent to relieve the defendant of any obligation of care while secondary assumption [of risk] consists of voluntarily encountering a known unreasonable risk which is out of proportion to the advantage gained.” Koutoufaris, 604 A.2d at 397-398. With the adoption of the comparative negligence statute in Delaware, secondary assumption of risk became “totally subsumed within comparative negligence.” Id. at 398. Primary assumption of risk, however, still exists as [*14] a complete bar to recovery. See id. (stating that primary assumption of risk “might well constitute a complete bar to recover, as a matter of law, even in a comparative negligence jurisdiction”) (citation omitted); see also Patton v. Simone, 626 A.2d 844, 852 (Del. Super. Ct. 1992); see also Staats v. Lawrence, 576 A.2d 663, 668 (Del. Super. Ct. 1990).

1 In 1984, Delaware adopted a modified comparative negligence statute, which allows a jury to apportion liability where both parties are negligent only if the plaintiff’s negligence is less than fifty percent. 10 Del. C. § 8132 (1984).

Defendants argue that plaintiffs’ action is barred, as a matter of law, because McDonough expressly assumed the risks inherent in an off-road bicycle race when he signed the release. Defendants contend that the release, in plain and unambiguous language, is intended to protect defendants from all liability arising out of any hazards encountered in an off-road bike race. (D.I. 78 at 9) Defendants assert that McDonough, [*15] as a college graduate and former participant in a NORBA event, must have had an understanding of the these inherent dangers when he signed the release. As further support, defendants note that McDonough signed an identical Agreement and Release just one week prior to the C & D race. Based on these facts, defendants assert that summary judgment is appropriate.

In considering the facts and making all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs’ favor, the court finds to the contrary. [HN4] A release will not be set aside if the language is clear and unambiguous. Hallman v. Dover Downs, Inc., 1986 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15708, Civ. A. No. 85-618 CMW, 1986 WL 535 at *2 (D. Del., Dec. 31, 1986) (citing Chakov v. Outboard Marine Corp., 429 A.2d 984, 985 (Del. 1981); see Bennett v. United States Cycling Federation, 193 Cal. App. 3d 1485, 239 Cal. Rptr. 55, 58 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987). [HN5] Where the language of a release is ambiguous, it must be construed strongly against the party who drafted it. Hallman, 1986 WL 535 at *2; Bennett, 239 Cal. Rptr. at 58. [HN6] In an express agreement to assume a risk, a plaintiff may undertake to assume all risks of a particular relation or situation, whether they are known or unknown to him. [*16] Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496D, cmt. a, (1965). However, for the release to be effective, it must appear that the plaintiff understood the terms of the agreement, or that a reasonable person in his position would have understood the terms. Bennett, 239 Cal. Rptr. at 58. As the Bennett court stated, “there is little doubt that a subscriber of a bicycle release . . . must be held to have waived any hazards relating to bicycle racing that are obvious or that might reasonably have been foreseen.” Id. These hazards include “collisions with other riders, negligently maintained equipment, bicycles which were unfit for racing but nevertheless passed by organizers, [and] bad road surfaces . . . .” Id. Thus, the understanding of the parties when the release was executed, in light of all the facts and circumstances, is paramount in determining whether the language is clear and unambiguous. Hallman, 1986 WL 535 at *2. The evidence must establish that the parties intended the release to apply to the particular conduct of the defendant which has caused the harm. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 496B, cmt. d, (1965).

In the present case, plaintiffs assert that [*17] a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether McDonough understood that the release included a waiver against the hazards created by defendants’ alleged negligent and reckless conduct in promoting the race. The court agrees.


For the reasons stated above, the court shall deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment. An order will issue consistent with this memorandum opinion.

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