Skier To Be Tried In Fatal Collision

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) — Even as ski resorts crack down on reckless skiing and snowboarding by introducing slow zones and speed patrols, prosecutors are putting a ski racer on trial for manslaughter this week.

Nathan Hall, then 18, is charged with felony manslaughter in the death of a skier he hit while bouncing down a bumpy run at Vail Mountain after finishing his shift as a lift operator in April 1997.

Buck Allen, a Vail municipal judge and expert skier, saw Hall flash by, ``sitting way back on his skis'' and unable to stop. Hall smashed into Alan Cobb, killing the 33-year-old Denver skier almost instantly.

Jury selection, which starts Monday, was expected to last more than a day.

Two Eagle County courts dismissed the charges against Hall, ruling that ``a reasonable person'' would not have expected skiing too fast to cause another person's death.

With law enforcement complaining this decision gave reckless skiers carte blanche, the Colorado Supreme Court granted the prosecutor's appeal and ordered Hall tried. The Chico, Calif., college student could face up to six years imprisonment.

``What better state than Colorado to decide this issue? And what better county than Eagle?'' said District Attorney Mike Goodbee. Goodbee's jurisdiction includes the Vail and Beaver Creek resorts; most residents ski or snowboard and many work at resorts.

In the three years since Cobb's death, major Colorado resorts have stepped up their enforcement of ski safety rules. Vail seized a record number of lift tickets in 1998. And to further prevent injuries, Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone, the nation's busiest resorts, created speed patrols in 1999.

Goodbee and Hall's lawyer, Brett Heckman, were under court gag orders, limiting what they could say, but Heckman appeared likely to argue that times have changed, and that his client's conduct wasn't unusual in 1997.

Goodbee agreed the climate has changed. ``If the slopes are safer now, then Alan Cobb's death wasn't in vain,'' he said.