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Risks Await Nevada Ski and Snow Buffs

This past weekend was Presidents’ Day Weekend, an oddity of the calendar that presents its own unique combination of risks of personal injury. During this late-winter reprieve from the daily grind of the new year, Nevadans eager to hit the slopes may end up getting more than they bargained for.

The history of Presidents’ Day is quite fascinating. Many know that it has something to do with the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two of the nation’s most important presidents. That is true, but the history is even more complicated – and interesting. Long before Lincoln was even born (in 1809), [1] Americans were celebrating the birth and life of Washington (who died in 1799). [2] Washington’s birthday was widely observed as a state holiday, and in 1879 it became an official, federal holiday. [3] In the 1960s, Congress considered – and ultimately adopted the core of – the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. [4] This changed several holidays from specific calendar days to regular parts of the month – such as Presidents’ Day, which is observed on the third Monday in February. [5] By happy coincidence, this falls quite evenly between the birthdays of the two presidents whose birthdays were already most widely celebrated: Lincoln’s (February 12) and Washington’s (February 22). [6] (William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan were also February-birthday presidents.) [7] Speaking of happy coincidences, regular holidays also help workers to plan and retailers to set up major sales. If you ever wondered what the nation’s leaders had to do with buying mattresses and pickup trucks, now you know! [8]

Enough background, you say – What are the risks? Well, the heightened possibility for personal injury is twofold. The first layer should be obvious: the risks of injury due to skiing. It goes without saying that jumping off large embankments, weaving between trees, or attempting trick moves puts one at increased risk for injury. In the legal world, the term “primary assumption of the risk” is used to describe inherently dangerous activities that participants surely know are risky. If a person is hurt doing one of these activities and then tries to sue, one of the first defenses the defendant will raise is to say that the plaintiff “assumed the risk.” An experienced personal injury lawyer may be able to work around this defense, but in garden-variety cases it can be a significant obstacle to recovering in a lawsuit.

As you have probably concluded already, skiing is an activity with plenty of assumption of the risk. Even without attempting the daring moves described above, skiers are opting to slide down a snowy mountain with sticks attached to their feet designed to make them move faster. Head trauma can result from falls, bruises from being struck with one’s own equipment, and more gristly injuries including death can also occur on the slopes. Beginning skiers sometimes cross one ski in front of and over the other, effectively pinning one foot down with the other. This causes them to fall face-first, but because one leg is pinned down it bears the torque of the tumbling body. As the leg bones bend and twist, one or more may break. Just because a person has had a “routine” injury does not mean that their case is doomed, and even if the plaintiff had a role in causing the injury it may still be possible to recover damages. The key, again, is getting skilled legal advice to assess one’s case and begin building it if appropriate.

Thus, anyone heading to the ski slopes faces the risk of personal injury due to the very nature of skiing. Here’s the other aspect: Presidents’ Day Weekend is a rarity on the calendar. Skiing is, of course, a winter sport. The principal winter holidays – Thanksgiving and the various celebrations observed between December and New Year’s – tend to carry several days or even weeks of time off from school and work. Families often take advantage of these long breaks to travel to distant locales or see family. Since Las Vegas is so warm, residents often play host to their frost-bitten guests from colder climes during these periods. After the new year, there’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday and then largely a drought of observed holidays until Memorial Day kicks off the summer.

Enter Presidents’ Day: a three-day weekend during the height of winter. With this extra, glorious Monday Nevada ski buffs can more easily justify a weekend getaway to some of the region’s ski resorts. Southern Nevada locals confined to Lee Canyon (no offense!) all winter long may hunger for longer and more challenging runs. Las Vegans can head west (in California’s San Gabriel mountains), north (to legendary Mammoth or Lake Tahoe), or east (to southern Utah or northern Arizona) to reach some serious snow. [9] But they have to put in many more hours to get there, and it is far easier to justify such voyages when one has an extra day off to invest.

To the north, Reno residents have many places to ski at the many resorts operating in both Nevada and California in and around Lake Tahoe.  Northern Nevada residents have many more skiing options during the winter and spring months and are more accustomed to driving in hazardous winter conditions; however, they are at a greater risk for ski winter related sports accidents, including snowmobiling and cross country skiing, due to this proximity.

But therein lies the danger: as Las Vegans put the rubber to the road so that they can put their skis on the snow, they may become greater hazards on the road than usual. While Nevada is roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to overall automobile fatalities on a national basis, [10] still some 300 lives are lost on Nevada roads every year. [11] This background risk of injury or even death is amplified when drivers are daydreaming of fresh powder rather than focusing on the road.












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