It’s ski season, and 100-attorney Ray Quinney & Nebeker in Salt Lake City is experiencing a flurry of winter business. Representing ski resorts, ski and snowboard manufacturers and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the 14-lawyer winter sports group defends slip-and-fall lawsuits—naturally—plus a variety of industry-related business law matters.
The National Law Journal spoke with Rick Thaler, head of the group, about the winter sports practice, how it has changed in recent years and the eternal debate about which method to descend a snowy slope is superior. The remarks below have been edited for space.
NLJ: Ok, which do you like better? Snowboarding or skiing?
Richard Thaler: Me, personally?
NLJ: Yes, you personally.
Thaler: I like both.
NLJ: Nope. You have to pick one.
Thaler: Personally, I grew up skiing and skateboarding and surfing. When I injured my knee, I switched to snowboarding. I’m currently snowboarding but considering going back to skiing.
NLJ: [Sigh.] Moving on. What trends are you seeing in the winter sports legal work?
Thaler: An expansion and widespread use of backcountry and side country [areas]. Resorts are crowded.People want access through a resort but want to go off the backside. Some of those places have no avalanche control.
NLJ: That sounds dangerous. What does that mean in terms of liability?
Thaler: There’s an assumption-of-risk defense. Utah has statutes that address the inherent risk of skiing. There also are signage issues to warn about the dangers. I’ve seen signs that say, ‘You are leaving the resort facilities. You may die.’"
Manufacturers are catering to the trend, as well. There’s all kinds of different equipment. They’re making split boards—snowboards that split in half into skis.
NLJ: What’s your typical winter sports case?
Thaler: We do skier-injury defense, but we do employment law, intellectual property, liquor licenses, product liability lawsuits. It’s the whole spectrum of legal claims and issues specific to the industry.
NLJ: Is the practice seasonal, like the sport itself?
Thaler: With the resort clients, yes. Right now, they are fully staffed and busy. They’ve got ski instructors, the lifties, ski patrollers. The manufacturers are more of a year-round business.
NLJ: How much of your legal practice focuses on winter sports?
Thaler: About 25 percent.
NLJ: That’s a lot actually.
Thaler: We have really good snow.
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