- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Resorts
- Published: December 07, 2013
- Last Updated: December 15, 2013
EDITOR'S NOTE: The jury ruled in favor of the defendant Skibowl on December 13, granting no money to the DeWolf family. For that story click here. For more background, read on.
Courtroom action in a $4.65 million lawsuit pitting the family of Taylur DeWolf against Mt. Hood Skibowl kicked off this week with testy exchanges over how much warning resorts should provide skiers and snowboarders about potential hazards.
17-year-old snowboarder Taylur DeWolf died the night of January 27, 2012 after she caught air off a jump on Dogleg, crashed, slid into the woods and hit a tree at high speed.
Although she was wearing a helmet at the time of her crash, the medical examiner ruled that Taylur DeWolf died on impact. She was skiing with friends but apparently no one saw her crash into the trees, because her body was not found for hours. Her friends reported her as missing at around 7 pm and her body was found around 11 pm.
Taylur's death has been extremely hard on the DeWolf family and their friends. Her uncle, retired aerospace engineer Leif DeWolf, teared up in court Friday as he explained the devastation.
"It is a very deep hurt," he told the jury.
The DeWolf family sued Skibowl and its owner, Kirk Hanna in November 2012, arguing that Taylur's death could have been prevented had the resort used bamboo poles or ropes to warn skiers and snowboarders about the potential hazard of the jump and the slope below.
The plaintiffs also are arguing that Dogleg should be marked as a black diamond expert trail instead of a blue square intermediate run. They claim that this portion of Dogleg has a 38-degree slope and is inherently dangerous because the fall line drops down toward trees where the trail turns to the right.
A 38-degree slope is the type of steep more commonly associated with Outback and other expert runs on the Upper Bowl.
Skibowl's head patroller for the past 15 years, Erich Maurer, strongly disputed the plaintiff's characterization of Dogleg as a dangerous slope in court Friday. Maurer called DeWolf's accident "an isolated incident" and described the terrain change where DeWolf lost control on Dogleg as "obvious and expected."
Maurer was on the stand for nearly two hours Friday, and his exchanges with the attorney representing the DeWolf family were often testy.
"Do you warn customers of unexpected hazards?" Attorney Jeff Merrick asked Maurer.
"We attempt to minimize risk," said Maurer.
"Do you warn customers of unexpected hazards?"
"We attempt to minimize risk."
"Is there something wrong with my question that you don't want to answer it?"
Maurer said Dogleg was swept the night before the incident, and patrollers didn't see any reason to mark any potential hazards. He strongly disputed the claim that Dogleg has a 38-degree incline.
There were five professional patrollers on duty at Skibowl on the night of Taylur DeWolf's death. Patrollers work out of the Rescue Center at the top of the Upper Bowl and take turns roaming the resort to assist guests and mark hazards.
Skibowl patrollers respond to about 400-500 injuries per season, including about 25 serious "red flag" responses.
12 skiers and snowboarders have died on Mount Hood resorts over the past decade, including 37-year-old skier James Malcarne, who died after hitting a tree several months after DeWolf's death at Skibowl.
The Oregonian has compiled a detailed list of all recorded Mount Hood deaths since 1883, showing that the number of accidents is growing as the mountain gets more use.