Everyone knows that downhill skiing can be a dangerous sport, but this is especially true when a ski resort fails to make safety its No. 1 priority. Over the past few years, at least three skiers have died after crashing into "tree wells" at a ski resort in Montana.
The most recent fatality occurred over the weekend and involved a 54-year-old California man who was skiing with his son in an area between two runs when he crashed into a tree well and died. For those unfamiliar with the term, a tree well is an open pit that forms at the base of a tree and gets deeper as a result of increased snowpack.
According to the man's son, the accident occurred when the two were skiing in an area between a "double-black diamond" run and a "blue" run. The son said he waited for his father at the bottom of the hill and when he didn't come down the son went back up the chairlift and searched for his father.
He soon discovered the tips of his father's skis sticking out of a tree well. The ski resort reported close to 20 inches of new snow since Jan. 8, and 5 inches of new wet snow the day of the accident. Since 1978, there have been six tree well-related deaths at the ski resort.
A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the resort following a tree well-related fatality that occurred in 2011. The suit was filed by a German family that claims their son died as a result of the resort's negligent handling of tree wells.
It is possible that the resort could face another suit stemming from the most recent tree well-related fatality as well. Lawsuits against the resort would likely argue that even though skiers assume a risk by participating in the dangerous sport, the resort had a duty to protect skiers from reasonably foreseeable dangers.
Source: Hungry Horse News, "Skier dies at Big Mtn. after falling into tree well," Jan. 12, 2014