The father of a 17-year-old Sandy girl who died while snowboarding at Mt. Hood Skibowl is suing the resort for allegedly underestimating the degree of difficulty of the trail where she crashed almost a year ago.
Taylur DeWolf died Jan. 27 after striking a tree and suffering severe trauma to her head and chest while night skiing on the resort's Dog Leg Trail.
On Wednesday, Nov. 21, Harry DeWolf filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court against Kirk Hanna, the owner of Skibowl, for between $1 million and $10 million, claiming Skibowl's intermediate trail consisted of expert-level terrain.
Skibowl conducted an investigation following the accident but denied the DeWolf family's request to release its findings unless the family sued the resort, according to a press release from the DeWolf's attorney, Jeff Merrick.
Taylur's parents sought information directly from Skibowl, the press release states. Unfortunately, Skibowl's attorney said Skibowl would disclose its investigation only if the parents sued Skibowl for wrongful death.
The DeWolf family requested a multitude of documents, including accident reports from previous years and personnel files of all employees working the day of the accident, according to Skibowl's attorney Brad Stanford.
Skibowl has made every attempt to be sensitive to the DeWolf family's needs, including transporting the family to the accident scene for a memorial, Stanford said. But the family's broad request for documents consisted of 48 categories, and possibly thousands of pages, most of which were completely unrelated to the accident, he added.
The family tried to subpoena the documents in Clackamas County Probate Court on Sept. 7. The judge denied the request, citing that without specific allegations, the court could not determine which documents were relevant to the case, Stanford said.
The suit alleged the trail's "blue square" rating misrepresented its advanced degree of difficulty.
Taylur was a responsible, intermediate snowboarder, Harry DeWolf said in the press release. Her mom and I wanted to learn why she died on an intermediate snowboard trail.
Skibowl said this is the first death to occur on this trail.
The run at issue is appropriately designated as intermediate and has been designated as such for decades, Stanford said. "No similar incident has ever occurred at the location."
A trail's designated level of difficulty, however, is not consistent throughout every ski resort in the country or the state. According to Dave Byrd, Director of Risk and Regulatory Affairs for the National Ski Areas Association, the ski industry trade association based in Lakewood, Colo., a trail's level of difficulty is relative only to the specific ski resort.
"The easiest slope on one mountain may be the most difficult slope on another...," he said. "Designations for slope difficulty are reflective of the trails at a particular mountain or resort, and do not necessarily characterize similar difficulty level of trails within the same state or even region.
The family conducted its own investigation and based on its findings, believes the trail needs a more advanced rating.
The lawsuit alleges that the trail funneled Taylur into a tree in a wooded area without allowing her to naturally come to a complete stop.
It also states that during the summer, the trail's dangerous part is fenced off to divert mountain bikers.
Stanford countered that no trails are entirely open to mountain bikers during the summer.
The family also states that the run consists of a 38-degree slope, which creates Ferrari acceleration that an intermediate snowboarder cannot control, and it is twice the steepness of what experts consider 'intermediate,' according to the press release.
But Stanford denies that claim, stating that the family is being imprecise and that the trail does not include 38 degrees of slope or a 38-degree slope angle both are measuring units to determine the steepness of a hill.