In 1979, the Utah Legislature passed the Inherent Risk to Skiing Act. Republican Sen. Dan Hemmert wants to update that decades-old law with this year’s Senate Bill 228. Hemmert says anyone who skis assumes a risk.
“You are putting on pieces of wood and metal that have a plastic base,” Hemmert said. “You’re getting on snow, and you’re going downhill, and you can go fast, and there are trees and rocks and other people, and things can happen.”
Hemmert says Utah ski resorts face increasing litigation and referenced one case in particular, Rutherford v. Talisker from 2019, where the Utah Supreme Court asked the legislature to clarify its intent in the law. Hemmert says the intent is to provide protection to ski resorts. The most recent version of SB 228 caps the amount of damages a ski resort patron can sue for at $1 million.
Ski Utah CEO Nathan Rafferty pointed to how the industry has grown since the 1979 legislation, when there were just two million skier days.
“We’ve seen a 150% increase in that timeframe, between now and then," Rafferty said. "We had another update in 2006, when we were at about four million skier days, and just last year, we passed over the five million skier-day mark.”
Hemmert says updating the liability act will put Utah in line with statutes in surrounding states.
“I think this is an important bill to keep Utah ski resorts on par with what are stronger protections in both Idaho and Colorado for their ski areas," Hemmert said. "And to keep our resorts competitive and, frankly, to support one of the biggest tourism and economic drivers in the state of Utah.”
Hemmert says the Utah Association for Justice and Ski Utah will put together additional protections for a bill to be introduced in the 2021 general session. SB 228 passed the full Senate Monday and now goes to the House for consideration.