Traveling a Slippery Slope

Dangerous terrain

A school committed to providing an education on avalanche safety is now the topic of a recent lawsuit. The family of Peter Marshall is suing Silverton Avalanche School, among other defendants, for wrongful death.  According to the lawsuit, on January 5, 2019, there was a misjudgment of how steep the slope was, as well as the potential to cause an avalanche.  Two avalanches were triggered, which led to Marshall getting trapped under several feet of snow. The guide, Zachary Lovell, and the remaining students searched for Marshall but were unable to find him until 50 minutes after the second avalanche.

Prior to the death of Peter Marshall, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center recorded problems with weak layers on the slopes. Based on the note provided by the information center, the Silverton Avalanche School came to an agreement that the instructors and students would not travel down the dangerous areas.  The lawsuit, however, mentions that the guide, Lovell, was determined to explore the more complex terrain for his lessons, thus increasing the potential for risk.

Despite the apparent mistakes made by the school and the guide, the family of Peter Marshall are also taking legal action against the manufacturer of the avalanche airbag, Backcountry Access, worn by Marshall during his lesson.  Allegedly, the Float 32 avalanche airbag did not deploy upon trigger.  While it is unclear how the family of Marshall might have known that there was a defect in the bag, the airbag backpack was found undeployed when the rescue team found Marshall.  This is not the first complaint made in reference to the avalanche airbags.  In 2013, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled a portion of the BCA Float airbags manufactured in 2011 and 2012.  There was an issue with a clip that could potentially become dislodged and prevent the trigger of the airbag to deploy.