Nathan Hall is a warning for the ski industry.
In November a Colorado jury, after 18 hours of deliberation, found Hall guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the 1997 death of Alan Cobb at Vail. Hall, 18 at the time and a lift operator at Vail, ran into Cobb while skiing. Cobb died of head injuries.
Witnesses said Hall was skiing extremely fast in poor conditions. A forensic pathologist said Cobb, who was struck by Halls ski, suffered trauma normally associated with a car accident.
Hall had been charged with reckless manslaughter, which carries up to 16 years in jail, but the jury made up entirely of skiers and snowboarders found him guilty of the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Hall was to have been sentenced last week.
The case, the first in the United States in which a skier has been held criminally responsible for a death, took several years to get to court. Two courts threw out the case against Hall, saying skiing recklessly wasn't enough to sustain a charge of reckless manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. But the Colorado Supreme Court ordered the case to trial.
Prosecutors urged the jury to send a message that reckless skiing will not be tolerated. Following the verdict prosecutor John Clune said, "Today our ski slopes in Colorado and the world have been made safer. You can't recklessly ski and hurt somebody. I think the whole world should pay attention to this."
The skiing world certainly is.
Some have suggested that the Colorado Supreme Courts ruling that criminal charges rather than civil can be brought against a skier is the real precedent being set, rather than Halls conviction. But in Eagle County, home of Vail and Beaver Creek, criminal charges have been filed in 25 skier collisions in the last decade, although none of those cases involved fatalities. In most cases the skiers were chareged with assault.
"It's important for the public to know this isn't something new," said Detective Sgt. Mike McWilliam of the Eagle County Sheriff's Department. "We actually do cite people for skier-safety-act violations. It's just become more high-profile with the Hall case, and people have become a lot more aware of it."
The first criminal conviction in Eagle County happened in 1990, when a skier streaked past a slow skiing sign, flew off a bump and hit a beginner skier who was in a ski school class. The victim sustained a broken back.
About one in 1 million skiers and boarders die every year in the United States. Of those fatalities, collisions between skiers or boarders make up a minuscule percentage, according to the National Ski Areas Association. Most deaths are caused by collisions with fixed objects, such as trees.
Still, the case has increased the emphasis on the Skier Responsibility Code