Howelsen Hill skier death case has oral arguments before Colorado Court of Appeals

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— The parties in the case of Cooper Larsh’s 2011 death at Howelsen Hill made their oral arguments in front of the Colorado Court of Appeal on Jan. 22.

The city of Steamboat Springs is appealing 14th Judicial District Court Judge Shelley Hill’s ruling in January 2013 that it waived its governmental immunity by failing to properly close the top of the Alpine Slide area where Larsh died.

Larsh’s mother, Maureen Ryan, filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Steamboat Springs in late 2011, but before the case can proceed, it must be determined whether or not the city has waived the immunity granted to it by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act.

The Jan. 22 oral arguments hinged on how each party defined design, construction and maintenance.

There was not a rope across the top of the area where Larsh is assumed to have entered the Alpine Slide area at Howelsen Hill on the day of his death. If the rope’s absence was a design fault, the city has not waived its governmental immunity. If it was a construction or maintenance failing, the rope’s absence constitutes a “dangerous condition,” and the city’s immunity is waived.

The city maintains that the area was permanently closed. Its attorney — Kyle Brenton, of Davis Graham & Stubbs — argued that there never had been a rope across the area and that the city assumed the other wooden structures in the area were enough to signal that it was not designated as a run.

Ryan’s counsel — Evan Banker, of Chalat Hatten Koupal & Banker — argued that as the area where the Alpine Slide now sits once was part of the Town View run, it should have been closed as outlined in the Ski Safety Act, which states that ropes and signs are used to completely close runs.

The city is asking the Court of Appeals to reverse the district court’s decision and dismiss the case based on government immunity.

The Colorado Court of Appeals will either publish an opinion or issue an unpublished opinion, which would not be binding precedent or able to be cited in the future.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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