Judge rules Vail possibly liable for 2012 death of teen skier

The judge ruled that Vail's signage might have been lacking.

On Friday, a district court judge in Eagle County, Colorado rejected Vail Mountain Resort’s request to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from an inbound avalanche in 2012 that killed a local teen skier. Following the judge’s ruling, a jury will now decide whether the resort was liable for the incident, per the Aspen Times.

On January 12, 2012, Taft Conlin — a former student of the Vail Mountain School — was skiing with friends on Vail Mountain when he entered the Prima Cornice trail multiple times through its open lower gate.

Though the upper gate to the trail was closed, Conlin and his friends were able to hit the trail numerous times through its lower gate. On the group’s last run, they attempted to hike up the trail to access the area just below the closed upper gate when an avalanche swept down the trail, carrying Conlin into a dense tree patch, killing the 13-year-old.

Initially, Vail Resorts attempted to have the Conlin family’s wrongful death lawsuit dismissed by arguing the ski resort protections provided under the Colorado Ski Safety Act of 1979 acquitted them of liability from any injuries occurring due to inbound avalanches, as inbound avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing.

District Judge Frederick Gannett on Friday disagreed, and said the case had more to do with improper signage than anything else.

“There is evidence to suggest that, although the upper entrance was closed, Vail was aware that the entire Prima Cornice trail or slope could be, and regularly was, accessed via the lower entrance,” Gannett wrote in his ruling, according to the Denver Post. “There is evidence to suggest that, despite this knowledge, Vail did not close off access to the entirety of Prima Cornice from the lower gate.”

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Now, a jury will decide whether Vail Mountain is liable to the family for damages stemming from the snow slide. In an emailed statement to Vail Daily, the Conlin family attorney stated the lawsuit has nothing to do with money.

“The family is very happy to be assured the case will go forward to trial in August, and that a jury of Eagle County citizens will be allowed to hear and decide the complete story about the cause of Taft Conlin's death. This is not about money,” attorney Jim Heckbert wrote in the statement. “Any monetary award the jury may make to the family will all be given to charity.”

Read more about inbound avalanches

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Colorado ski resorts ruled not liable for inbound avalanche deaths