By Emily Mieure
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — A couple suing for injuries their teenage son suffered during a 2017 “pond skim” accident argue that Snow King Mountain Resort was negligent, but the resort says it’s not liable.
Teton County District Court Judge Timothy Day says the dispute will be up to a jury to decide.
Day denied Snow King’s motion for summary judgment, which would have ended the suit. The teenage son, still a minor, is referred to as WDD in court documents.
“WDD apparently understood certain risks of the pond skim event, having already participated on the day of his injury,” Day wrote in the summary judgment order. “However, a pond skim event promoted by the recreational provider is unlike the ordinary activity of skiing at a ski resort or even skiing in a terrain park at a resort.
“The specific actions of both WDD and Snow King as the recreation provider must be considered in determining whether the danger of pond skimming encountered by WDD is intrinsic to that recreational activity.”
In a pond skim, people ski downslope and then are supposed to skim over an artificial pond.
Doug and Elizabeth Doyle filed the complaint against Snow King Holdings and Snow King Mountain Resort.
The Doyles say their son was severely and permanently injured as a result of the condition of Snow King’s premises and its negligence in designing, creating and conducting a pond skim event.
Since depositions have been underway in the case, more details have been revealed about what happened in March 2017.
The Doyles’ son had wrapped up a Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club race and went to the pond skim with friends.
Young Doyle skied across the pond successfully a few times and then one of his friends called for a “rowdy train,” which is when they all ski down together.
“As he tried to exit the pond, another skier in the rowdy train skied across WDD’s left leg,” court documents state. “The edge of that ski cut WDD’s leg, severing muscle, tendon and nerve. He now suffers ‘drop foot.’”
During his deposition, Doyle was questioned about the inherent risk of skiing down a snowy hill and across a body of water with several other people.
“Do you think there was any danger involved in going down four across?” attorney Jim Lubing asked.
“I didn’t think so. However now, looking back, I consider it a danger,” he said.
The incident happened when the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act was still in effect. That law stated “inherent risk with regard to any sport or recreational opportunity means those dangers or conditions are characteristic of, intrinsic to, or an integral part of any sport or recreational opportunity.”
The Doyles will have to prove that their son’s risk was not inherent.
Snow King Manager Ryan Stanley was also deposed in the case and said the resort was selling alcohol at the pond skim — but that the resort didn’t make any money off the event.
“All the proceeds for the event were going to various nonprofits,” Stanley said. “So KHOL Community Radio was receiving some, and so was the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club.”
In Snow King’s motion for summary judgment, the resort asserted that the Wyoming Recreational Safety Act shields it from liability for the pond skim. (The Wyoming Recreational Safety Act has since been replaced by the Skier Safety Act.)
Snow King claims the pond skim event was an inherent risk.
“WDD was an experienced skier, had done the pond skim before, including that day; had done rowdy trains before, was fourth in line therefore knew no one was controlling when the skier behind him would begin; and that he was aware that there are no real rules or start areas or supervision or safety precautions for this particular pond skim,” court documents state.
The teen said during his deposition that the friend who sliced his leg open has apologized but they don’t ever talk about the incident.
“WDD immediately begins bleeding profusely as a result of the nature of the cut and cold water,” the original complaint states. “Some bystanders jump in the water to help WDD, getting him out of the water and on the snow where a tourniquet stops the bleeding.”
The plaintiffs haven’t indicated how much they’re seeking in damages, but it’s more than $50,000.
“The medical bills are substantially more than that,” attorney Jerry Bosch told the News&Guide.
It’s unclear if the 2017 pond skim participants signed liability waivers. It hasn’t been mentioned in the court files.
But Jeff Moran was master of ceremonies for skims at Snow King and remembers waivers being signed.
“In all the years that I emceed the pond skim, they always had a waiver,” Moran previously told the News&Guide.
There hasn’t been a pond skim at Snow King since the incident, but it’s unclear if that’s because of the lawsuit.