I traveled to a family funeral last weekend in Connecticut. Flew into Hartford and then hired a car from there. My driver Mike and I got to talking – it turns out he had also given a ride to Sabrina Clevenger (a freshman at Yale this year) in the recent past and she had left her ski helmet in the car. Small world. Give me a call Margaret. I took Mike’s card. He lives in New Haven and is happy to arrange a drop-off.
From Angela’s desk …
June Mountain still squeaking by
Given the lack of snow, and lack of snowmaking equipment, can June Mountain remain open for business this winter? According to June Mountain Marketing and Sales Manager Abigail Ross, “We will be open until you can’t ski on J-7. The conditions are variable. The grooming crews are doing an amazing job. I don’t know how close things are to not being safe anymore and it changes on a daily basis. But we will be open until it isn’t safe.”
Ross said June Mountain staff is hoping the storm this weekend will help keep the Mountain open, but that regardless, she hasn’t heard any plans to close June.
Snowcat case gets stuck on semantics
The civil case involving Kathleen Willhide-Michiulis, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles Inc. (KATV) was in court again on Wednesday, February 4 discussing the process of the discovery phase and the definition of blind spots.
On March 25, 2011, Willhide-Michiulis became entangled in the tiller of a snowcat produced by KATV and being operated by Clifford Mann at MMSA. Willhide-Michiulis and her husband are suing MMSA and KATV for lifetime medical care of Willhide-Michiulis, who lost one leg, severely injured the other, and suffered a brain injury in the accident.
Lawyers from both sides spent time this week taking depositions from several Mammoth locals involved in the 2011 incident, including MLPD officers, an MMSA bartender and Ski Patrol. They plan on deposing four different snowcat operators as well.
However, both sides have yet to agree on a common definition of blind spots, given that snowcat operator Clifford Mann may have not seen Willhide-Michiulis because of them. Danielle Hoffman, attorney for Willhide-Michiulis, argues that because KATV doesn’t provide warning of blind spots, they may be held liable for Willhide-Michiulis’ injuries.
“If you can’t see out of the rearview mirror and side mirror… there is a blind spot,” MMSA Lawyer John Fagan said. He told Judge Eller that he has spent time in the PB 400 snowcat Mann was driving in 2011 and said “every vehicle has a blind spot.”
Kerry Wood, representing KATV, said he “will endeavor to provide responses” to Hoffman’s questions about blind spots. However, if “he’s asking for an engineering analysis I’ll have to get that from the manufacturers in Germany. Honestly, I don’t know if they have it.”
Hoffman said the case could possibly be pushed back even further if the court has to compel the German-based company to provide information about blind spots, saying it could invoke Hague conventions and international law.
Fagan also argued that Mann was making a slow left hand turn when Willhide-Michiulis came towards the tiller at a 90-degree angle, and blind spots may not even be a consideration. “The mirrors may have been facing across the hill and not up the hill,” he told Eller.
Hoffman responded by informing the Judge that at some point both sides will need to conduct an inspection of the snowcat Mann was driving so that their experts can observe the blind spots in the same location where the incident occurred.
Judge Eller was pleased at the progress both sides had made in the depositions, but still said he expects the Motion for Summary Judgment (the next step in the trial process) date of June 11 to be pushed back. “This is not a simple case, it has lots of witness and… busy lawyers.”
And from Vane’s desk …
Over-snow vehicle trails to require NEPA
On Jan. 28, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) issued its final policy for managing snowmobile and other “over-snow” vehicle use on national forests and grasslands. The policy is part of the larger, controversial 2009 Motorized Travel Management plan, which was intended to develop and maintain a sustainable system of routes that provide motorized recreation opportunities and access to recreation destinations, as well protection for natural and cultural resources in the Inyo National Forest (INF).
The new over-snow vehicle policy requires a greater degree of public input before local Forest Service mangers can designate potential over-snow vehicle roads, trails and areas.
Previously, managers alone could decide on whether or not to designate areas for over-snow use.
“Now, we’ll have to do a NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] decision,” explained INF Public Affairs Specialist Deb Schweizer.
The Forest Service will also have to produce a winter over-snow vehicle map.
The policy won’t have any effect on areas previously designated for over-snow use, and will, according to a Jan. 27 USFS press release, “maintain the requirement that all designations must … ensure protection of natural resources, such as water and soils and wildlife, while continuing appropriate recreational opportunities for over-snow and other recreational uses.”
The USFS manages more than 200,000 miles of roads and 47,000 miles of trails that open to motor-vehicle use. Roads and trails vary from single-track to roads designed for high-clearance vehicles such as logging trucks.
Left out of the policy are fat tire bikes, which have gained in popularity over the last several years.
“A fatbike is not a motorized vehicle, so we would have to do a separate NEPA [to designate trails for fatbike use],” said Schweizer. “Right now, fatbikes are allowed anywhere that’s not groomed for snowmobiling and Nordic skiing.”
Schweizer added that the USFS will also be considering what roads are no longer functioning, frequently used, or damaging to the environment. Because the cost of maintaining roads is bigger than the budget, these roads may be removed from the larger trail system.
Schweizer said the new over-snow vehicle policy will go through NEPA in the next year.