Ski with a Buzz. Get Stung by the Fuzz.
It goes without saying that skiing (and snowboarding) while drunk is dangerous. Heck, skiing while sober is dangerous enough. Yet alcohol is almost as much a part of the culture as snow. To realize that the message about skiing and drinking doesn’t always compute, one needs to look no further than the U.S. Ski Team, where two widely publicized incidents highlighted the issue.
The first was Bode Miller’s startling-but-not-so-startling admission that he has skied drunk in World Cup races. The second was the tale of former U.S. Ski Team development squad member Robert Vietze. Vietze blew his chance at the 2014 Olympics by drunkenly urinating near a sleeping 11-year old girl during an August 2011 JetBlue red-eye flight home from training in Oregon.
Lawyers are often accused of ruining everyone’s fun, so let me clarify: No one’s saying don’t drink. I have lots of fun when I ski and enjoy a good après ski as much as the next person. However, it is important to understand the risks and legal consequences of mixing alcohol and skiing. So here’s a quick overview of the law mixed with minimal preaching.
Let’s start with the most basic scenario-skiing while drunk. Many
people are surprised to learn that skiing under the influence is
actually a crime in many states. For example, in Colorado, skiing under
the influence carries up to a $1,000 fine [C.R.S. 33-44-109(9)]. In
Wyoming, drunk skiing is a misdemeanor that could land you in jail for
up to 20 days [Wyo. Stat. Ann. 6-9-301(b)]. Of course, these laws are
rarely used to prosecute drunk skiers, but just because the law isn’t
often applied doesn’t mean it won’t be applied to you. Just ask the
Telluride, Colo. skier who was nabbed by cops in 2009.
Civil LiabilityAn SUI (Skiing Under the Influence) isn’t the only reason not to drink while skiing. Skiing while drunk increases your chances of incurring civil liability by committing a tort (a “civil wrong”). And while you won’t go to jail (unless your actions also constitute a criminal offense), it certainly can lighten your wallet. Tort verdicts can cost you millions of dollars, making those three beers with lunch the most expensive round of drinks you’ll likely ever buy.
Criminal LiabilityIn addition to being a crime, skiing while drunk can constitute other crimes like reckless endangerment. Worse still, it can constitute an element of a more serious offense. For example, if you have too many après drinks and run someone over while drunk and kill him, your drunkenness could elevate the crime to criminally negligent homicide or even manslaughter. That definitely won’t look good on your next job application, which, by the way, would likely be written from prison.
Bartenders LiabilityIndividuals aren’t the only ones who can be held liable for injuries arising from drunk skiing. Resorts too can be liable. Under what are known as “dram shop” laws, restaurants, bars, and taverns can be liable for serving a visibly intoxicated patron if that patron subsequently injures or kills a third party. Dram shop laws vary greatly state to state, but the common thread is foreseeability.
Consequently, resorts (and bartenders) should be particularly careful not to over serve skiers while the lifts are still turning because it is foreseeable that an intoxicated skier might head back out on the slopes where they pose a danger to themselves and others.
The PreachingIf you’re going to drink at lunch, do so in moderation if you plan to ski after.
Remember alcohol’s effects increase with elevation, meaning that you will get drunk faster. This in turn means you will likely be deemed “under the influence” more quickly than normal regardless of your blood alcohol content.
If you’re driving home after après, be careful not to over consume. Pick a designated driver. Increasingly, law enforcement has been setting up DUI roadblocks on roads from ski areas during après ski hours.
David B. Cronheim, Esq. is an attorney at Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A. in New York a Skiing Business contributor. He also writes a ski law blog, Ski, Esq. He may be reached for comment at DBCronheim@nmmlaw.com.