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Mount Hood Skibowl Closes Mountain Biking after ‘Unprecedented' Injury Lawsuit

Mount Hood Skibowl in Oregon will suspend summer mountain biking operations for the summer of 2022, following the first “serious bike claim” in more than three decades. 

Gabriel B. Owens was paralyzed from the waist down after a 2016 accident. The Skibowl verdict was described as “unprecedented,” and Oregon judges awarded Owens a settlement of  $11.4 million. 

The accident occurred on Cannonball, a double black diamond trail, in July 2016. According to court documents, Owens, 43, hit a rut and “lost control of his mountain bike, crashed, and slid downhill.” Then his “torso forcibly struck a 4”x4” solid wooden post” installed for signage on the trail.

The complaint noted that the park should have mounted the sign to something that would not have injured anyone in the event of a crash.

“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.”

Owens suffered multiple injuries to his lower thoracic vertebrae, resulting in “complete paraplegia below the T12 level.”

After Skibowl’s lawyers threatened to appeal the jury verdict, Owen’s settled for $10.5 million. Gretchen Mandekor, Owen’s lawyer, told Oregon Live that the measure could have tied up the money for years.

In court, the resort’s lawyers argued that Owens lost control of his bike due to “aggressive” speeds. They also argued that “recent events” on the trail had revealed no evidence of a ditch.

Skibowl’s lawyer, Raymond Gates, argued that Owen’s injuries were caused by going headfirst over his handlebars, not by hitting the post. Owen’s crash, according to the team, was his “personal responsibility.”

Cannonball is steep and fast. Court documents show that the trail had an average rate of 17%, with sections as steep as 27%. In a 2016 Youtube video, Skibowl called Cannonball its “most difficult on the upper mountain with high speeds, big jumps, and huge berms” as riders can reach speeds of up to 50mph on the trail.

It is uncertain whether Mount Hood Skibowl intends to reopen mountain biking following its summer closure. In a statement on its website, the report said, “[e]liminating all risks with recreational activities—especially in downhill mountain biking through forests at high speed— is something that is just not possible.”

“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.”


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