The lawsuit against actress Gwyneth Paltrow is the first time I can remember a ski crash getting this much attention.

They not only showed testimony on TV, but video of the crash. I realize the video was a simulation, and I have to admit that I could not tell who was uphill or downhill.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

Much was made of the so-called code that uphill equals guilty. In fact, under the Colorado Skier Safety Act, it’s the law. The uphill skier is responsible for avoiding any skier below.

But this occurred in Utah, at Park City. And as far as I know, Colorado is the only state with such a law. But no matter where you are skiing, don’t hit another skier unless you want the other skier’s lawyer waving a copy of that Colorado law in front of a jury.

Not having skied at Park City, I’m not familiar with the beginner area where this occurred, but if two skiers came together with enough force to cause significant injury, it is probably safe to surmise that one or both of the skiers were skiing too fast for a beginner slope.

It’s not often that a skier/skier collision results in a lawsuit, but when one of the skiers involved is a famous actress such as Gwyneth Paltrow, her wealth alone can inspire legal action. The jury found her not to be at fault, but I can’t say from what I saw of the video. So in this country, the jury has the final say.


I can say this: Most beginner slopes have signs reading “SLOW.” Obey them and slow down in such places. And always be aware of skiers below you on the trail.

As a patrolman, I summed it up to skiers I felt were at risk or putting others at risk: “If you’re good enough to overtake another skier, you should be good enough to avoid them.” I often directed such skiers skiing too fast for the beginner slopes to take their skills to more difficult terrain higher on the mountain.

That same jury actually ruled that the other skier (who brought the lawsuit) was at fault. If he doesn’t have the money to reimburse Paltrow’s legal expenses, that distinction is probably moot.

So what can we take away from this trial and the results, in terms of skiing? For most of us, the answer is quite simple. When overtaking other skiers, give them plenty of room and keep your speed down at levels appropriate for the trail you are skiing.

There is a certain amount of risk in our sport, which is part of its attraction. Colliding with another skier doesn’t have to be part of that risk.

When I was blindsided by a snowboarder nearly 10 years ago, she said to the patrolman who arrived on the scene, “He cut me off.” The patrolman should have pointed out to the young lady that as the uphill skier, she was responsible, especially as she was traveling in a straight line down the edge of a trail where skiers were turning left, as I was, to get to a lift.


Although I did require rotator cuff surgery, I was quite able to ski off the mountain. I knew from experience that nothing could be done at the clinic on the mountain, but in declining help I did point out to the patrolman that as an examiner when his boss got certified, I knew the drill.

That was my only skiing injury in 75 years of skiing. The knee brace I wear when skiing is the result of a high school football kickoff return, which left me without an ACL in my left knee.

So, again, what can we take away from this crash and trial?

A little common sense is a key part of the solution. I know it’s uncommon these days, but it is the lesson. Ski at speeds you can handle and that are appropriate to the trails you are skiing. Understand that you are responsible for skiers lower on the trail and give them plenty of room.

Skiers have neither turn signals nor rearview mirrors, so it is up to us to anticipate sudden changes of direction as we approach skiers below us on the hill. Although it is part of the safety code to look up when entering a trail, the downhill skier cannot know if he or she is crossing our path, so it is up to us to avoid collisions.

See you on the slopes, but not too close.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at

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