Off-Season Ski Area Amusement Rides
Like the other northern New England states, New Hampshire is home to many ski mountains. However, skiing season doesn’t last all year. Ski resorts in New Hampshire have increasingly diversified their entertainment offerings to increase year-round business. These amusement park-type rides can be fun and exhilarating activities. But they can also be extremely dangerous, particularly for children.
A “mountain coaster” (also called an “alpine coaster”) is a type of roller coaster that runs down the side of a mountain. Passengers ride in “cars” similar to bobsleds, which speed down rails or tracks with the assistance of gravity.
At least three ski areas in New Hampshire operate Mountain Coasters: Attitash Mountain in Bartlett, Gunstock Mountain in Gilford, and Cranmore Mountain in North Conway. Several others exist in Massachusetts and Vermont.
Injuries can occur on mountain coasters (or other roller coasters) due to mechanical failures (such as defective brakes), design faults like steep turns, or inadequate instruction from ski area staff. Injuries may also occur due to negligence from other riders, who go too fast or fail to stop.
Mountain coaster injuries have been reported across the country. Some are surely due to the injured person’s own mistakes. However, others may be caused by the negligence of mountain coaster operators such as ski resorts.
Unlike injuries which occur while skiing, ski mountains (or other mountain coaster operators) do not have a statutory immunity for mountain coaster injuries. See RSA 225‑A. Rather, they are governed by RSA 321-A, the carnival and amusement ride statute.
Alpine slides are another amusement attraction often found at ski resorts (NH’s most prominent one is at Attitash Mountain). They are similar to mountain coasters in that they transport passengers rapidly downhill. The slide is a chute similar to a bobsled track. Passengers typically travel on small wheeled carts. However, unlike mountain coasters, the carts are not attached to a fixed track.
Injuries on alpine slides have spawned lawsuits around the country based on the negligence of the slide operator. Similarly to mountain coasters, injuries can happen due to the negligence of mountain employees in instruction or operation of the ride (such as releasing riders without a sufficient time gap between them). Or, design/maintenance errors can cause injuries.
Zip lining has been a popular recreational activity for decades. Indeed, the state of New Hampshire even advertises zip lining as an attraction for out-of-state tourists. Passengers in harnesses are conveyed by a steel cable attached to pulleys. Gravity is the guiding force. Zip lining is a popular way to achieve unique views of nature. They are often found in canopy tours.
Riders can reach great speeds, providing adrenaline thrills. Zip lines are available at many White Mountain businesses and ski areas, such as Bretton Woods, Cranmore Mountain, Attitash Mountain, Mount Sunapee Ski Resort, and Wildcat Mountain. Like mountain coasters and alpine slides, ziplines are governed by RSA 321-A, and are subject to administrative rules and regulations.
Zip line injuries may occur when harnesses, cables, pulleys, or braking systems function incorrectly. These malfunctions can occur due to the negligent operation, instruction, or maintenance of the zip line operator.
Airbag Jumps (also known as “freejump airbags”) are a relatively new amusement phenomenon. In essence, they are the same devices used by movie companies to cushion the falls of stuntmen. Patrons climb up a platform and then jump onto the airbag from a considerable height.
Attitash Mountain in New Hampshire has an “Airbag Jump” attraction. Multiple injured patrons have advanced lawsuits against Attitash for injuries sustained on the device. Possible claims against airbag-style “rides” include allegations of negligent operation, instruction, maintenance, or design.
New Hampshire businesses and ski areas operate the above amusement rides/attractions, and also many others, such as such as water parks, water slides, mountain bike parks, canopy tours, and challenge courses. These attractions can be a fun way to get outdoors, have fun, and maybe get an adrenaline rush. However, they often involve high speeds, considerable heights, and heavy mechanisms. As such, injuries can occur. Oftentimes, injuries are simply accidents, or due to the participant’s own errors. But other times, the negligence of the operator/owner is to blame. In those cases, an attorney should be consulted. Recovery may be possible against the businesses’ insurance company.
Although these businesses do not have statutory immunity for the activities mentioned above, they have other strategies to prevent liability. Most prominently, ski areas and other businesses utilize liability waivers, also known as liability releases or exculpatory contracts. These waivers may be written forms signed when buying a ticket, online/electronic forms, or even contained on the back of tickets.
As discussed in other blogs, while liability releases are nominally disfavored in New Hampshire, they are nevertheless enforced in most cases, even against allegations of negligence. There are exceptions, however: when the injured party is a minor child, when the defendant’s actions rise to the level of recklessness, where there is a violation of a statute or regulation (in some circumstances), and where the liability release language does not encompass the activities at issue or explicitly waive negligence liability.
Waivers must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Their enforceability depends on the unique circumstances of each injury, the language of the release, and any relevant public policy factors. Welts, White & Fontaine attorneys are experienced in the interpretation of liability releases. If you were injured and have questions about a liability waiver, reach out to us for a free consultation.
For a consultation, please call us at (603) 883-0797 or contact us here. We can help you evaluate whether you have a viable claim, and have the tools and knowledge necessary to obtain a favorable settlement or verdict. We handle most personal injury matters on a contingency fee basis.
Author: Israel F. Piedra
This blog is intended for informational use only. The information contained herein should not be construed as offering legal advice or a legal opinion.