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Who's at fault for deaths of two skiers?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Two deaths, both on ski slopes, were the subject of court filings and testimony in Colorado last week. The fundamental issue in both cases is whether the victims should have known better before they skied into closed areas — or whether the ski area operators provided sufficient warning.

Taft Conlin was 13 last January when, after one of the winter's rare storms, he and buddies skied onto the lower portion of Prime Cornice, one of the steeper trails on Vail Mountain. The trail had been closed at the top. To get in more turns, he side-stepped up the mountain about 36 metres and onto the trail. He was killed by an avalanche that ran 122 metres, throwing him into a tree. He died of blunt-force trauma.

Vail Resorts claims that the youngster was entirely or mostly negligent for his own death, reports the Vail Daily, after examining court filings. Lawyers representing the victim's parents claim the company created an "avalanche trap."

"They seem to be asserting that there's an unwritten rule against climbing," Jim Heckbert, attorney for the parents, told the Daily.

In Steamboat, snow was plentiful all winter long two years ago, when 19-year-old Cooper Larsh got off a Poma lift at the city-owned Howelsen Hill ski area and turned to his left. There were no out-of-bounds signs, but the trail maps indicated it was closed above the Alpine Slide, which operates only in summer. He lost control, flew two metres through the air and landed headfirst in the snow. He suffocated.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today explains that the city claims immunity under a state law. The exception is if there was a "dangerous condition" in public facilities. Whether that dangerous condition existed was the subject of two days of testimony, with a ruling yet to be determined. If there was, the case against the city government can then be pursued under Colorado's Skier Safety Act.

Reading the judicial tea leaves at Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif.—Both sides involved in proposed real estate expansion of the Homewood Mountain Resort claimed victory after a U.S. District Court judge issued a ruling in early January.

San Francisco-based JRA Ventures wants authority to build a five-star hotel among the several hundred lodging units at the base of the ski area, one of Tahoe's older-style resorts. Total development has been calculated at $500 million.

The Sierra Sun reports that Judge William B. Shubb agreed with Earthjustice, the legal arm of the Sierra Club, that two local jurisdictions, Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, had improperly failed to analyze whether the company could have proposed a smaller project, while still making money. However, the judge dismissed most of the other contentions of Earthjustice.