Our View: Hoping for something good
June 14, 2005
We hope the very best comes out of the lawsuit filed Friday by the family of Ashley Stamp.
A trial win or a favorable settlement for the Stamps won’t come close to healing the wounds for the family, or the larger community. But it could help prevent future families and future communities from living with the pain of their own commemorative orange wristbands.
Stamp, a 13-year-old Steamboat Springs Middle School student and successful young ski racer with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, was killed Dec. 19 in Vail. She collided with a snowmobile driven by a resort employee while she was warming up for a race.
The suit filed Friday alleges negligence on the part of Vail Associates Inc. and Mark Chard, the employee driving the snowmobile. It seeks unspecified, unlimited damages.
But the best result this lawsuit possibly could have is unrelated to any financial gain. Clearly, no amount of money can make up for the loss of a child.
The best possible result of this suit is what Rick DeVos, executive director of the Winter Sports Club, hopes for:
“The most positive thing that could come from this is if some policies are adopted nationally to improve the safe operations of equipment with guests on the hill,” he said Friday after learning of the suit.
The suit alleges that employees were not properly trained and supervised; that the warning flag on the snowmobile did not meet the standards of the Skier Safety Act; and that the resort had failed to properly warn people that snowmobiles were operating on the trail.
Hopefully, the publicity this tragedy created — and the threat of financial loss for a large corporation — could spur safety-conscience changes throughout the ski industry relating to the use of motorized vehicles such as snowmobiles and groomers.
Snowmobiles have become an integral part of ski-resort management, valuable not only for shuttling staff around a mountain and managing races and other on-mountain events, but also for personal safety — getting ski patrollers to an injured person and getting that person down the mountain as quickly as possible.
But with their increased use must come increased training and an increased focus on making sure accidents such as the one that took Ashley Stamp’s life don’t continue to happen.
Before Stamp’s death, Steamboat had begun taking steps to reduce the chances of skier-snowmobile collisions, reducing its fleet by almost half in the past two years, strategically placing snowmobiles on the mountain to reduce the distances they must be driven and placing an increased emphasis on training employees to use good judgment and critical thinking before they squeeze the throttle.
If any good is to be pulled from Stamp’s death and this lawsuit, hopefully it will be to spur not just Vail, but the ski industry as a whole, to re-examine policies and re-commit to enforcing them.
Maybe then, Ashley Stamp’s legacy will extend beyond those who knew her to all those who never have to look down at an orange wristband reminding them of a life unnecessarily lost.