Friday, March 16, 2012

Ski Fast...Lose Pass - Ski Drunk...Lose More

It goes without saying that skiing and snowboarding while drunk is dangerous. Heck, skiing while sober is dangerous enough. Yet in a sport where alcohol is almost as much a part of the culture as snow, the warning bears repeating. To realize that the message about skiing and drinking doesn’t always compute, one need look no further than the US Ski Team, where two widely publicized incidents recently highlighted the issue.

The first incident was Bode Miller’s startling-but-not-so-startling admission that he skied drunk in World Cup races. The second was the sad tale of former US Ski Team member Robert Vietze. Vietze blew his shot at the 2014 Olympics by drunkenly urinating on a sleeping 11-year old girl during an August 2011 JetBlue redeye home from training in Oregon.

Lawyers are often accused of ruining everyone’s fun, so let me clarify. No one’s saying don’t have fun. I have lots of fun when I ski and enjoy a good après-ski as much as the next skier. However, it is important to understand the risks and legal consequences of mixing alcohol and skiing. So I promise – no preaching, just a quick overview of the law.


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 which 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. However, it’s important to remember that just because the law isn’t applied often doesn’t mean it won’t be applied to you. Just ask this Telluride skier nabbed by Mountain Village cops in 2009.

Lastly, to clarify, while a DUI will get your driver’s license yanked, a “Ski-U-I” is not a motor vehicle violation (so it won’t), but it doesn’t mean it will look good on your next job application either.

Civil Liability

A Ski-U-I isn’t the only reason not to drink while skiing. Alcohol can be a contributing factor in an accident. When you consume alcohol, your reaction time is slower and your judgment is impaired. Skiing while drunk increases your chances of incurring civil liability by committing a tort (i.e. a “civil wrong”). And while you won’t go to jail (unless your actions also constitute a criminal offense…see below), it certainly can lighten your wallet. Tort verdicts can run into the millions of dollars, making those three beers with lunch the most expensive round of drinks you’ll ever buy.

Criminal Liability
In addition to being a crime in and of itself (see “Ski-U-I?” above), 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 were to run someone over while drunk and kill them, 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, will be in the prison laundry.           

Après-Ski and DUI

Most skiers would agree that après-ski is one of the best parts of any ski day. Trading lies over a few beers or a hot toddy has been a skiing tradition as long as the sport has existed. Many of the hot, sugary drinks skiers like to imbibe at the end of the day are stronger than they may realize because their sweetness can mask the strength of the alcohol. So remember either to pick a designated driver or, better yet, a slopeside chalet.

            In closing here are a handful of few tips to consider:

·        If 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 regardless of your blood alcohol content.
·        If you’re driving home after après-ski, 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.

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