Snow and Avalanche Center 2008 Avalanche News

Lawsuits filed in slide death at The Canyons
Widow claims resort officials failed to properly train personnel

05/20/2008 04:12:25 PM MDT

The Canyons, American Skiing Co. and Wolf Mountain Resorts were sued last week by the widow and the mother of a man killed in an avalanche at the resort in December.

The slide that killed 30-year-old Jesse Williams, of Grand Junction, Colo., happened within the boundaries of The Canyons Dec. 23 and was about 175 feet wide. The avalanche also trapped 11-year-old Max Zilvitis near the Ninety-Nine 90 Express lift. The Snyderville Basin boy survived after he was buried for about 40 minutes.

A negligence lawsuit filed last week by Salt Lake resident Kyle Williams, the slide victim's mother, and the victim's wife, Colorado resident Gina Williams, claims resort officials are responsible for the death because they failed to hire ski patrollers capable of keeping the mountain safe.

"Defendants failed to properly and adequately train personnel responsible for avalanche forecasting and avalanche control," states the six-page complaint filed against The Canyons and Wolf Mountain.

But ski patrollers claimed they detonated around 170 pounds of explosives in the area Williams died the day before the deadly slide.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages.

"Defendants owed the duty to deny public access to the ski run if the run was unsafe for skiing," the lawsuit filed against The Canyons and Wolf Mountain states.

Wolf Mountain Resorts Managing Partner Kenny Griswold owns land that he leases to The Canyons and its parent company, American Skiing Co.

Griswold fired back at The Canyons Monday with a court filing that claims the resort was "under-staffed" and "under-funded" at the time of the avalanche.

"During the past several years, [The Canyons] and American Skiing Company have operated The Canyons to a financial loss These losses, and the various financial bailouts the resort and its parent company endured, created a financial climate and culture at The Canyons and American Skiing Company where snow-safety related departments were believed to be under-staffed and under-funded and department heads knew not to request additional staff or funding because such requests would not be looked upon favorably," the lawsuit Wolf Mountain filed against The Canyons states.

The Canyons Managing Director Mike Goar did not return a telephone call before press time seeking comment for this story.

"The cross claims raised by Wolf Mountain regarding the tragic events of last December are another transparent PR ploy. They answered before they were even served with the complaint and made sure that the local media was made aware of their answers in order to press their agenda in the Park City community," said Tim Vetter, a vice president at The Canyons, in a prepared statement Tuesday. "The allegations by Wolf Mountain regarding The Canyons safety record are completely unfounded as are many of Wolf Mountain's other allegations. It is simply appalling that Wolf continues to attempt to use this tragedy to advance their obvious personal interests."

Officials at Wolf Mountain believe no snow-safety work was performed in the area where Williams was skiing the day he died.

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