Mt. Hood Skibowl suspends bike operations due to lawsuit verdict

Screen grab from Mt. Hood Skibowl site showing 2 MTB riders in protective gear and the words "Bike Operations Suspended for 2022"
From Skibowl website.

A popular off-road riding area on Mt. Hood will be closed all summer.

Owners of Mt. Hood Skibowl wrote in a statement posted on their website that a, “recent unprecedented plaintiff verdict in a mountain biking lawsuit,” is the reason they’ve decided to suspend all mountain bike operations for summer 2022.

Here’s an excerpt from the statement:

“After 32 years without a serious mountain bike claim of any kind, the winds have shifted. Our industry has focused heavily on user education and operational best practices, while working hard toward mitigating risk where possible. Eliminating all risks with recreational activities—especially in downhill mountain biking through forests at high speed— is something that is just not possible.

Oregon ski area operators and other recreational outfitters are facing the enormously impactful challenge – recreational liability for activities that are inherently risky. Oregon has seen some significant lawsuits in recent years (now most recently hitting home at Mt. Hood Skibowl) with outcomes that make operating a small, recreational business in the state exceedingly challenging. Liability releases in Oregon currently offer recreation providers with practically little to no protection, and they are less effective as they are in neighboring states and others across the country, which allow for the use of liability waivers in recreational contexts.

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Given the current legal landscape in Oregon, the future of Mountain Biking at Mt. Hood Skibowl remains uncertain while we work through the judicial process with hopes to find more effective ways of protection for offering these popular—albeit inherently risky—recreational activities.”

I’m still trying to find out more about the lawsuit that led to this decision.

In addition to lift-operated downhill runs and a variety of cross-country trails, Skibowl has also played host to the popular 6 Hours of Mt. Hood endurance race. That event is scheduled for June 26th this year and we’re awaiting to hear back from the organizer if it will be impacted by this decision.

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UPDATE, 5/9: Learn more about the lawsuit in this story from The Oregonian.

UPDATE, 9:26 am on 5/9: Promoters of the 6 Hours of Mt. Hood race tell us they’ve gotten an exemption from the policy and will be able to hold their event in June. However, part of the course — the downhill section of the Gnar-Gnar Trail that’s been part of the solo course for the past several years — will remain off limits.

NOTE, 5:38 pm: This post has been edited from its original version after considering feedback in the comments below. Thanks – Jonathan.

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Steve Scarich
Steve Scarich
7 months ago

What does Hannah’s personal history and misdeeds possibly have to do with an announcement about access closure?

Let's Active
Let's Active
7 months ago

I generally agree with your point, JM, but think you might have separated the issues a little more clearly since you led into the sentence about Hannah with …

“Skibowl is no stranger to the courts and has faced numerous lawsuits over the years.”

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
7 months ago
Reply to  Let's Active

It’s never not right to remind people of drunk drivers who have injured or killed cyclists.

PS
PS
7 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Morris

Fair, as long as the criminal history of everyone is eligible to be used as representation of their character and is relevant to anything they are even cursorily involved with.

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
7 months ago
Reply to  PS

I’m okay with that.

Moleskin
Moleskin
7 months ago
Reply to  Let's Active

Agreed. No sympathy for DUI but there’s no link between trail conditions & use at Skibowl and that incident. Also, the link to “numerous lawsuits” leads to just one lawsuit related to Skibowl that was quickly dismissed it seems. I’m all for journalism but this seems a bit hyperbolic and unjustified.

Samuel Colt
Samuel Colt
7 months ago
Reply to  Moleskin

Agree with Moleskin. The mention of the, apparently unrelated, car accident and mentioning the man’s name in the worst possible light, seems a tad, what is the word I’m looking for – mean? spiteful? revengeful?
I noticed the problem the moment I read the article and was pleased to see that others noticed it too.

MTB123
MTB123
7 months ago
Reply to  Moleskin

I googled “injury snowbowl mt hood” and found at least half a dozen lawsuits.

BarnDoor
BarnDoor
7 months ago
Reply to  MTB123

You don’t hear about most of the lawsuits, and the only reason we are hearing about this one is because they are shutting the bike park down. For the last 20 years, Skibowl has probably averaged about 1 death or life changing injury a year, and more often than not it is due to Skibowl negligence. Everything there reflects from the top, and the owner is an erratic spoiled basket case.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  MTB123

Usually one to two deaths on Hood from tree wells or avalanches every year, and dozens of major injuries. I just saw one yesterday at Timberline (sketchy crud and whiteout conditions up top).

PDX Biker from Maine
PDX Biker from Maine
6 months ago
Reply to  Moleskin

Maus is not a journalist. He is a blogger.

bjorn
bjorn
7 months ago
Reply to  Let's Active

Why should we give a guy with a history of drunk driving arrests and speeding tickets who while drunk hit someone and then fled potentially leaving them to die in the street an even bigger break than the courts already did. Personally I have not been to Ski Bowl even one time since Kirk Hanna’s DUI and no story about the bike park should omit that it is owned by a person with such little regard for the lives of cyclists.

PS
PS
7 months ago

Would be more compelling and newsworthy if you mentioned that many ski areas in Oregon have been subjected to lawsuits (and won) from users and that we really do have a different approach to liability for recreational pursuits than many other states. There aren’t many details on this specific case, but there are a lot of cases out there that suggest that many recreational service providers may not realize how exposed they are. I get that the clicks to old articles never hurts, but not sure that makes you a better news publisher as much as someone looking for clicks on a Friday.

bbcc
bbcc
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Scarich

I appreciate the inclusion. I’m skeptical of Skibowl’s rationale given that they fail to name the specific lawsuit they’re responding to. I wonder if they’re withholding services from a customer base their executive team doesn’t particularly value as a means to push for looser liability regulations. The fact that their owner hit a biker going 80 mph and sped away from the scene is pretty essential context for me.

lvc
lvc
7 months ago
Reply to  bbcc

I don’t see that there is a reason to assume Ski Bowl is being deceitful. Their statement pretty strongly implies that there was a specific incident, suit and verdict against them for a mountain biking related incident. However, I don’t think mountain biking was much of a money maker for them. In my experience, on weekends you would get a couple of dozen riders up on a day pass or season pass. They’d maybe have a similar number of riders just doing a run or two on rental gear while they were up doing other stuff. If there was no specific mountain biking suit, the next most likely cause was a simple case of the money coming in didn’t justify the insurance premiums going out.

All the mountain bikers in Portland don’t even have enough political clout to get a couple of trails inside the city. There is no way that a small subset of those riders will have anything like the clout to impact liability law in the state one way or another.

Lewis
Lewis
6 months ago
Reply to  lvc

It’s true that Skibowl didn’t make much money from biking, and they also haven’t invested much money lately in it. Skibowl has essentially become a wedding venue/sketchy carnival in the summer. Pretty lame that Forest Service land is being used like that.

The lawsuit was legitimate, the 4 x 4 post sign for the hiker trail was directly in the path of a rider if they lost control on the large water bar on a high speed section of trail. Who uses large water bars on a high speed mountain bike trail? Skibowl is the bike park I’ve ever been to that used water bars instead of modern drainage technique like graded drains. More importantly, the hiker trail should have never been in that location, crossing a high speed section of trail with no real warnings to the hikers or riders of the potential danger, no grade reversal to slow the riders down. This is what happens when your bike park is not properly designed, you turn an old service road into a high speed bike trail, and then negligently put a hiking trail across it in the worst location possibly. Most of the other signs in the bike park were on breakaway posts, why did somebody at Skibowl think it was a good idea to put a solid post in this dangerous location?

But the most important factor is that Skibowl has been warned about the dangers of this area by riders who noticed it, and there have been serious accidents in this area previously. Nothing was done, except for negligently installing the 4 x 4 post sign that was only there the year of the accident. Skibowl world have lost this lawsuit in any state with all the damming evidence against them that the jury saw.

Schrauf
Schrauf
7 months ago
Reply to  bbcc

I appreciate the inclusion as well and it certainly provides some background on the current situation. Maybe a few extra words would provide clarity, such as “[Separately from Skibowl’s operations,] in 2012, Skibowl owner Kirk Hannah was driving drunk when he seriously injured a bicycle rider…”. However, perfect is the enemy of good.

Chris I
Chris I
7 months ago

Time to use those leg muscles, fellas.

lvc
lvc
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I don’t think there was much of a park rat culture at Ski Bowl. I think most of the regulars can and do climb regularly under their own power. Ski Bowl is (was) the only place around that both warranted the use of a DH bike and didn’t require shuttle vehicles.

lvc
lvc
7 months ago
Reply to  lvc

To Alan’s point below: If legal/insurance costs are too high, you bet they’d not open for skiing/snowboarding either.

Bjorn
Bjorn
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Ski bowl required you to pay to ride in the area even if you didn’t use the lifts, I think this closure will be a complete closure of all their trails not just being able to take a bike on the lifts.

Alan Love
Alan Love
7 months ago

Hundreds of people are injured every year while snow skiing/snowboarding at lift operated resorts. Does SkiBowl plan on suspending Winter operations as well?

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
7 months ago

I wonder why there is not, or if there could be, a law that protects MTB park owners like the Equine Activity Liability Act. A posted sign is literally all that is needed to indemnify equestrian centers.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hash

Not indemnify just hold not liable for injuries.

Dan
Dan
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hash

I freely admit I know nothing about this, but I could imagine there’s a difference between riding horses on trails and hitting kickers in a MTB park, where it’s possible for the feature to be built in a way that increases the risk of injury.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan

Not just on trails, includes all activities at an Equestrian center, including barrier jumping, barrel racing, etc. Considerably more dangerous than mountain biking.

Samuel Colt
Samuel Colt
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hash

Unlikely in Oregon. In Oregon, if a criminal steals a gun from your locked home, goes out and kills people with it, YOU, THE GUN OWNER, will be charged with serious crimes if you can’t prove it was locked up. Your door lock is not sufficient. When we have legislators that are this out of touch with reality, reasonable protections become less likely. Voting has consequences.

Pendleman
Pendleman
7 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Colt

Your comment has me reading about gun laws in our state. Is it referencing SB 554?

Oregon Gun Owners (OGO) states “Per se negligence” does not apply if firearm was obtained by person unlawfully entering or remaining in a dwelling”. The statute says the penalty for violating the law is civil ($500 and up to $2000 if a child get their hands on the gun). I can’t find anything about charging the gun owner with a crime.

It looks the biggest risk to a gun owner is civil litigation.

“If an owner violates the safe storage law and, as a result, the firearm is used to injure a person or property within two years of the violation, the injured party may bring a civil lawsuit against the owner and the court must find that the owner or possessor was negligent”

https://ogo.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-sb-554/
https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2021/09/25/oregon-new-gun-law-goes-into-effect-what-know/5863197001/

lil’stink
lil’stink
7 months ago
Reply to  Pendleman

Just look at the user name of the person you responded to. “Out of touch with reality”, indeed.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Colt

If you don’t care enough to properly secure your deadly weapons, Oregon might not be the state for you.

Michael W.
Michael W.
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Hash

No recreation provider in Oregon is immune from liability since the Bagley v. Bachelor decision.

DS
DS
7 months ago

The accident happened 8 years ago on a run called Cannonball and the lawsuit is/was real. Huge payout involved, it was in millions (8-10). They already had a worker shortage, why open up to get sued again? Skibowl makes horrendous decisions by the month, but this is a great decision. Mountain Bikers were the worst clientele when the did show up, pass sales were terrible. It’s Kirk Hanna (btw)not Hannah.

Ps- Don’t always believe what you read on the DUI either. I prefer not defend Mr. Hanna but just because it was his car doesn’t mean it was him. I’m sure others had access to his keys 😉

Probably enough chatter from the woods, for now.

FuzzRider
FuzzRider
7 months ago
Reply to  DS

Many of us have bombed down Cannonball more times than can be remembered. If you get hurt going down that you did it to yourself. We need to know all about this lawsuit. We have many questions. If you have more information please share. Thank you.

bjorn
bjorn
7 months ago
Reply to  DS

Kirk Hanna admitted he was drunk, he admitted that he hit the man, he admitted that he fled, and he bought his way out of any real consequences with his daddy’s money, not sure why we wouldn’t believe him on this. Even worse than the DUI in my opinion was that he left the victim lying unconscious in the road. His behavior is inexcusable.

Chris I
Chris I
6 months ago
Reply to  DS

Sounds like Skibowl just wants to transition into a Carnival operation on Mt Hood. They don’t seem to care about winter operations (closed for the best spring skiing in decades), and Mountain Biking is now gone.

dwk
dwk
6 months ago
Reply to  dwk

I guess the post should not have been there but if you hit a tree next to a ski run, it is there fault?

Camilo
Camilo
6 months ago
Reply to  dwk

They’ve been sued for that too.

AndyK
AndyK
6 months ago

I feel like I’m missing some details from the original story. Can someone explain the 2016 crash to me, how the sign post was the cause, and if crashes like this happen frequently? I don’t ride MTB and have not ridden Skibowl before. Thx in advance.

tdibbs
tdibbs
6 months ago
Reply to  AndyK

I was there on July 31, 2016 and have video of the heli lifting him out. The rider blasted though the drainage ditch where the ‘slow’ signs are at trail convergence on bottom of cannonball and nailed some rocks. Not clear if sign caused the crash or not, either way he did not brake for the ‘slow down’ signs where trails converge. I was on trail just behind the group. Even his buddies were they talking about how idiotic he was riding, also saw them crushing beers in the parking lot beforehand. I don’t like the owner’s history either, but accident was 100% the rider’s fault.

JV
JV
6 months ago
Reply to  tdibbs

Nearly all the information in tdibbs post is lies, except for maybe the date. These riders were not drinking before they rode that day, I know one of them and he didn’t even drink at that point. There was no slow sign before this section of trail, although Skibowl put a huge slow sign over the trail after the crash. The sign with a 4 x 4 post was too close to the trail, and was not there any previous year or in the years after. Skibowl also closed off this hiker crossing after the crash because it was in a very dangerous location.
Here is video from the trail that year.

https://youtu.be/k1VgZSNTpw4

lvc
lvc
6 months ago
Reply to  JV

If the sign in question is the no hiking sign the Oregonian showed, it was there at least as early as 2014. See at 1:56.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkBmTZauyTo

lvc
lvc
6 months ago
Reply to  AndyK

AndyK:

Here is a link to a video of the run in question posted in 2016. The name “cannonball” is pretty apt, you really get moving if you don’t drag your brakes on the way down. At the very beginning you see the rider pass a white sign with a black diamond indicating that its an advanced/experts run. At the 1:05 mark the rider passes an intersection with a hiking trail with a bunch of signs around it. At 1:07 the rider passes the no hiking sign off to the left that the photo in the Oregonian article implied is the sign in question. In the video it looks like the sign is on a tree, not a post off to the side of the run like the Oregonian photo showed, so maybe the video got made at a later date after the sign got moved?

If you run into something bad stuff can happen to you, the faster you’re going, the more likely that bad stuff will happen. There’s nothing magic about mountain biking vs. road biking or whatever other kind of biking in that respect. Per tdibbs’s comment, maybe he got out of control and hit the sign, maybe he got out of control and something else made him crash. To me it shouldn’t matter, the root cause is the rider allowing himself to get out of control.

“Frequently” is a pretty loaded term. Obviously, it can happen. In terms of overall safety and speaking as someone who likes both mountain and road biking, I feel I’m safer doing runs like Cannonball than I am riding on the road where any old driver could take me out and there wouldn’t be a single thing I could do about it. No one is going to drive a car into you at a bike park. Well, maybe in the parking lot, but not on the trails.

Chris
Chris
6 months ago

Anyone know what this means for Timberline?

fishyfishy123
fishyfishy123
6 months ago

I cynically often think things like this are excuses for poor business practices. It sounds less like the business person failed and more like unfair policies from the government. Makes it easier to get hired for the next job if it’s not your fault your business didn’t pan out.

WhyTho
WhyTho
6 months ago

This is an incredibly frustrating case and outcome, as it leaves a terrible precedents for action sports. yet again reminded of how disgusted I am at American litigation policies. Perhaps Judge has little idea how important of an outlet actions sports are to some. Rider signed the wavers and knew the risks, don’t punish the many… where can we protest.