A Case in Point: Kenny Salvini v. Ski Lifts, Inc. (Snoqualmie)
In 2004, a young skier, Kenny Salvini, went night skiing with his father and friends at Snoqualmie Summit. Salvini was a superb skier, an excellent athlete and had been captain of the wrestling team at Central Washington University. He had been skiing all of his life.
On the evening of February 11, he went off a jump at the top of the Bonanza run and then skied down to a table-top jump at the base. The mountain had cooled substantially and the snow had become hard and icy. The effect of this condition was to increase skier speed going off the jump. The approach to the jump had become rutted and curved (concave) due to the number of skiers using the jump during the day. No one from the ski area had addressed it.
Salvini went off the jump and was projected up and backwards. The landing area for the jump was far too short for the jump and Salvini landed on his neck beyond the landing area. He suffered a jumped-facet injury and became a permanent C-3/C-4 quadriplegic.
In addition to the changed conditions, the jump had been built at the beginning of the season by a groomer simply using a Cat to push a bunch of snow into a table-top shape. As the season progressed and it continued to snow, the jump grew in size. No real thought had ever been given to the length of the landing area or the physics of the jump. As a result, the jump grew, but the landing area was never lengthened.
After Salvini's accident, the physics of the jump were analyzed in detail. The engineers who examined the jump were astonished to find that it had grown to the point where skiers going off the jump were at an equivalent fall height of 38 feet - almost a four-story building. Yet, they were landing on a 5-percent, i.e., essentially flat, slope. (Landing on a steeper slope greatly reduces the likelihood of injury.)
When the snow conditions hardened and became icy, many of the skiers were landing well beyond the landing area - a phenomenon called "overshooting." A significant number of skiers were getting hurt; many were removed from the hill, including some on a backboard. The ski area responded by writing a note on a whiteboard stating that "most injuries in the terrain park are the result of the rider out jumping the landing." Despite the mounting number of accidents, nothing further was done by the resort to address the jump.
Further analysis revealed that the jump's construction provided a narrow optimal window for skiers. If they hit the jump traveling at speeds of less than 22 miles per hour, they would land on the flat table top where serious injury could occur. If they hit the jump at speeds above 32 miles per hour, they would overshoot the landing area. Skiers, however, do not have speedometers and their speed is often a result of snow conditions. At higher speeds, the landing area was far too short and the jump inherently dangerous.
Salvini filed a lawsuit against Ski Lifts, Inc., the owner of the resort. The case went to trial in March 2007 at the Regional Justice Center in Kent, before the Honorable Laura Inveen.
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