Mt. Hood Skibowl, OR, Bans Mountain Biking After Losing $11.4-Million Lawsuit to Man Paralyzed on Double-Black Diamond Run

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mt hood ski bowl, cannonball,
The Cannonball trail. Credit: Mt. Hood Skibowl YouTube

Mt. Hood Skibowl, OR, has announced that mountain bike operations will be suspended this summer after losing a lawsuit to a man paralyzed in an accident at the resort in 2016. 

“In light of a recent unprecedented plaintiff verdict in a mountain biking lawsuit against Mt. Hood Skibowl, we have made the difficult decision to suspend all mountain bike operations for the summer of 2022. After 32 years without a serious mountain bike claim of any kind, the winds have shifted.”

– Resort statement

Gabriel B. Owens, 43, was awarded $11.4-million following the accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. According to documents submitted to the court, Owens was riding down Cannonball, a double black diamond trail, on July 31st, 2016, when he hit a rut and “lost control of his mountain bike, crashed, and slid downhill.” As he slid down Cannonball, his “torso forcibly struck a 4″x 4″ solid wooden post” that was supporting signage for trail markers or warnings.

The lawsuit argues that in such high-speed notorious areas, the resort should have erected collapsible signage rather than solid wooden posts.

“Specifically, signs placed within a crash zone or otherwise along or adjacent to areas where high speeds and falls by riders are foreseeable should be designed, constructed, and installed in a manner and from materials that cause the sign and its post to break away in a collision without causing substantial injury to a rider who may strike the sign or its post.”

– Lawsuit

Owens settled for $10.5 million after the ski resort’s lawyers threatened to appeal the jury verdict, according to Owens’ lawyer, Gretchen Mandekor, reports Oregon Live.

In its defense, Skibowl argued that Owens had lost control of his bike due to “aggressive” speeds and that no evidence of a ditch or rut was seen during recent events on the trail. Owens’ injuries were caused by flying head-first over his handlebars into the ground and not by striking the sign, and the crash was a matter of “personal responsibility,” lawyers contended.

The Cannonball trail is a double-black diamond trail for expert riders only. Its steep decline zigzags for half a mile down the mountain. Mt. Hood Skibowl offers forty miles of downhill mountain bike trails.

The full statement from the resort is below:

In light of a recent unprecedented plaintiff verdict in a mountain biking lawsuit against Mt. Hood Skibowl, we have made the difficult decision to suspend all mountain bike operations for the summer of 2022. 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.

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.

mt hood skibowl, mountain bike, map
Mt. Hood Skibowl bike map with the Cannonball trail highlighted.

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13 thoughts on “Mt. Hood Skibowl, OR, Bans Mountain Biking After Losing $11.4-Million Lawsuit to Man Paralyzed on Double-Black Diamond Run

  1. Reportedly, Owens was an experienced rider who made the podium many times. That takes serious commitment to building stamina and skill; something like riding 3-5 times per week for 1-3 hours per ride and mixing in 100-mile road rides to enhance endurance. You have to ride crazy fast over obstacles that scare the f**g s**t out of ordinary riders. This accident took place toward the end of Cannonball Trail. On the way down Owens cleared a number of jumps and other obstacles but he lost control going over a recess where water crosses the trail. Since water runs downhill and bike trails go across hills, this is a common feature on many mountain trails and one that I suspect was well within Owens skill level. So, why did he crash? Why do any of us crash going over obstacles within our skill level, including ones we have successfully traversed many times before? That’s mountain biking. It’s dangerous. A split second of inattention at the wrong moment and crash!

    Granted; the 4×4 sign post placement was dumb. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that hitting the post caused the injury while defense counsel argued Owens going over his bar and into the ground caused the injury. Which was the truth? What if that pole had been a tree? What if the pole wasn’t there and Owen just crashed into the rock bed next to the pole? A verdict in a civil case requires a majority of jurors, not 100%. Jurors can base their decisions on sympathy alone, if they choose. Who doesn’t have sympathy for Owens? To opine that the jurors were not conflicted is naïve or maybe a self-serving in the lame attempt to persuade. It is easy to favor a human being who is clearly suffering over an entity with no human identity and very likely the entire jury pool felt terrible about Owens’ condition regardless of his own contributing negligence.

    The Wedding Trail placement was also dumb but that has nothing to do with Owens crashing and everything to do with plaintiff attorney “reptile theory” jury manipulation to leverage a nuclear verdict.

    The real problem. Participating in adrenalin sports (skiing, skydiving, scuba, MTB…) is gambling with safety and inevitably, some of us get bit. Plaintiff attorneys eagerly await the opportunity to spend a relatively minor amount of time to bankroll millions of dollars. All they need is a sympathetic client vs a non-human entity that has a big insurance policy. Plaintiff attorney’s typically pocket about 40% of the judgment (so, about $4M in this case). In the press these attorneys masquerade as champions of accountability yet remarkably few really try to improve anything before that 40% carrot comes into play. Do you think Skibowl is paying the judgement? Think again; you are. This is just one claim in a recent shift of entitlement perception that is plaguing our legal system. Insurance pays the nuclear verdicts. In turn, businesses pay much higher premiums, the cost of which they pass on to consumers through higher prices for goods and services. In some cases, employers are bankrupted or vacate the area thereby raising unemployment and poverty while reducing competition which leads to monopolistic price increases from the surviving entities, which widens the gap for the impoverished. We all pay the price. Freedom is not free. The freedom to enjoy adrenalin sports is paid for in injuries. Yes, I value my freedom to choose for myself that much. This really is nothing compared to the price of that freedom fight that began with “no taxation without representation.”

    The other problem is the shift from self-responsibility to thinking that one’s own wellbeing is the responsibility of everyone else. Plaintiff attorneys have gotten rich off this idea. Cannonball is a double black diamond trail. Actually, it looks like one of the least technical, easy-rolling double black diamonds I have ever seen. Regardless, the designation is there to loudly communicate that a high level of skill and caution are warranted; if you take this trail, you are knowingly assuming this risk; the level of caution you apply is your choice. Respect the double black diamond.

    In the end there are many things both sides could have done that would have yielded no injury. Holding the park wholly responsible is wrong and we all pay with higher prices, loss of freedom to do activities of our choosing, and life spiral toward a dumbed-down, ultra-safe litigious world where plaintiff attorneys make fortunes staging and exploiting victims. Barf!

  2. Interesting how Snow Brains posted the self-serving statement by Ski Bowl, whose excuses were totally and 100% rejected by the jury of 12 regular citizens – and nothing from the paralyzed rider. Why are they afraid of hearing from the only party in the case who the jury actually believed?

  3. Ya get what ya get & sometimes its a real b. Having lived in London, I can confidently state the UK judicial system would never allow such a case & as such, their courts have greater integrity. Maybe we should just put up railings & zip cords with speed limiters. Hey, I bet such a system could not only be safer yet also more profitable. Add a coin/cash box for every turn. … Even better, just go sit in an IMAX movie theatre. The kind where the seats move to the video & the AC is always an normalized 68 degrees. Or just stay home. Everyone here knows the sad reality, this is the beginning of the end. One more fun healthy (potentially dangerous) activity lost in the wake of being woke.

  4. This was a legitimate lawsuit for many reasons.
    1. The hiker trail was negligently placed in that high speed location of trail when it should have never been there. They removed it a few years later. If you are going to have a hiker trail cross a high speed trail, there needs to be grade reversals to slow the riders. Instead Skibowl just put a hiker trail across a high speed downhill section where riders can reach 50 mph. Completely negligent and indefensible.

    2. There was no slow sign or warning before this dangerous area, which Skibowl has been warned about repeatedly by customers and employees. Soon after the crash Skibowl put up a huge SLOW sign.

    3. 3 serious accidents caused by the large water bar in this same location, one requiring air lift. The year before the accident the person who maintains the trails was advised to replace the water bars that caused the crash with gradual graded drains. He was stubborn and refused.

    4. Most crucially, if you lost control on the unnecessary water bar, you were heading right towards the unnecessary 4 x 4 sign post Skibowl put very close to the trail. The 4 x 4 sign post was not there in any previous year and was removed after the crash. Most of the bike park had collapsible posts, why did they put a 4 x 4 sign post in this dangerous location?

    Horrible trail planning, along with bad trail maintenance, negligent signage decisions, and completely ignoring warnings from customers and employees. There is a reason Skibowl didn’t appeal this, it wasn’t even close and they were completely negligent in nearly every way possible.

  5. Really too bad he had an accident, but that’s what it was and Mt. Hood should not be held accountable for that. Sucks they settled! I feel bad for the countless people who will not be able to enjoy the knowingly dangerous sport of mountain biking there now!

  6. This is a scary precedent. What about skiing? Should trail signs break away? What about lift or snowmaking towers? Trees, piping, buildings… I don’t wish this gentleman or anyone else harm, but we know the risks. And I say that after a December crash, multiple broken bones two surgeries and continued rehab. The responsibility begins and ends with me. No one is forcing us on the hill or promising it will be safe. There’s no way it can ever be.

  7. Better yet, enclose everyone in a clear round bubble suit, then we can surly legislate guaranteed long life injury free.

  8. Another notch in the trial lawyer lobby’s gunbelt. Spineless judges–former lawyers–worrying about prohibiting this kind of crap from going to trial and risking censure by their peers and current lawyers, let these nonsense lawsuits go to trial, thus allowing people like this guy to ruin the outdoor experience for the rest of us. Why not just cut down all the trees that are close to ski runs, because someone might ski into one, or maybe put giant airbags around those dangerous wooden posts, so somebody doesn’t ride into them? What are the odds there might be a ditch or washout or a log or slick spot where someone rides? It is, after all, mountain biking. Nobody wishes harm to anyone else, but this kind of settlement is ridiculous and should be negated on appeal.

  9. That’s a double-black?!?
    That smooth flowing trail with no obstructions or obstacles? Basically a road. Interesting. So what’s a blue look like then?

  10. Oh joy! The fantastic result of our legal system and all the nancy’s we have in our society coming together.

  11. People like Mr Owens are the reason that lift ticket prices are extremely expensive. I hope that kook gets kicked in the nuts daily.

  12. This will be the end of mountain biking at ski areas. Mountain biking should never have been allowed in the first place. Their wheel tracks (any wheel tracks) cause destructive washouts.

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