Snowriders split on skiers’ manslaughter conviction
Penny Adams, 56, knows firsthand the consequences of being in the path of a reckless skier like Nathan Hall, the Chico man convicted last week of criminally negligent homicide after a fatal collision with another skier three years ago.
A few years ago, a skier at Squaw Valley hit the Diablo woman so hard the collision broke her leg and the skier’s momentum was abruptly stopped as if he crashed into a tree head-on.
“I don’t know where he came from, but the guy hit me so hard, he flipped over on top of me,” she said, catching Heavenly’s Sky Express chairlift on opening day Friday.
Adams and her husband, Jim, 64, said they’ve “seen it all” in their 50 years on the slopes and have learned to ski defensively. That means looking over the shoulder.
“You just expect for them to take a sudden turn,” she said, adding her own strong reprimand for Hall, a 21-year-old ski racer who was speeding down the hill when he hit Alan Cobb on Vail Mountain.
“It’s just like driving. You need to take responsibility for your actions and not approach too fast,” she said.
Hall had been charged with reckless manslaughter, but the jury scaled down the conviction to a lesser charge. He is facing up to eight years in prison.
Prosecutors asked the jury to send a strong message to skiers and snowboarders that reckless conduct would not be tolerated.
The case sparked a debate at ski destination communities nationwide, and Lake Tahoe proved no exception.
A Napa couple taking a break halfway down lower Zachary off Kirkwood’s Solitude chairlift on opening day Saturday agreed with the conviction.
“We have to sign a waiver that says we take responsibility or (Kirkwood) can pull your season pass,” Andrea Pecota, 26, said.
Ross White, her fiance, nodded, insisting that Hall should have followed the rules. When White, 30, notices reckless skiers, he makes a concerted effort to avoid them at all costs.
“I say, ‘That guy’s going to kill someone,’ ” he said.
Kirkwood takes the issue seriously. Beyond having season-pass holders sign a waiver pledging to ski in control, it posts a seven-point skier and snowboarder responsibility code in the restroom stalls. The code dictates that the downhill skier or boarder has the right of way. It also points out how it’s wise to stop at a safe place off to the side of the hill, unless you want uphill skiers to use your body as a slalom post.
The majority of skier and boarder opinions at Heavenly and Kirkwood over opening weekend leaned in the favor of the highly publicized conviction.
Yet with the range of responses, there were a few exceptions from those who were either unaware of the case, unwilling to comment without knowing more, thought the case shouldn’t have gone to trial or disagreed altogether with the outcome.
“There are always going to be people skiing fast. It’s just something that needs to be enforced (by the ski area),” said Greg Barker, 21. The Stanford student was on his way up to Kirkwood’s new Cornice Express quad with his skis Saturday morning. “But just because there’s one accident, it doesn’t mean everybody needs to start litigating on the slopes.”
Snowboarder “Baby” Steezus, 20, summed up his thoughts about Hall’s conviction in two words while taking a break on Heavenly.
“It’s lame,” said Steezus, who’s ridden a board half his life.
“Because when you’re at the mountain, things happen,” he said. His brother piped up in support, suggesting skiers and snowboarders should take heed of the warning on the ticket that the sport is hazardous.
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