mount hood skibowl mountain biking
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‘Unprecedented’ Injury Lawsuit Shutters Mountain Biking at Mount Hood Skibowl

Oregon’s Mount Hood Skibowl announced it would shut down its summer mountain biking operations, following the first ‘serious bike claim’ in over 3 decades. A 2016 accident left the plaintiff of the lawsuit paralyzed from the waist down.

A man paralyzed in a 2016 mountain bike accident at Mount Hood Skibowl won an $11.4 million settlement. And the resort will suspend its mountain biking operations for the summer of 2022.

In a verdict Skibowl called “unprecedented,” Oregon judges awarded Gabriel B. Owens the settlement. Per documents submitted to the court, the accident occurred on Cannonball, a double black diamond trail, on July 31, 2016.

The documents say that the 43-year-old 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 on the trail for signage.

According to the complaint, the park should have mounted the sign to something that wouldn’t injure anyone crashing into it.

“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 sustained multiple injuries to his lower thoracic vertebrae (just above the lumbar area), leaving him with “complete paraplegia below the T12 level.”

Skibowl Threatens Appeal; Smaller Settlement Reached

Ultimately, Owens settled for $10.5 million after Skibowl’s lawyers threatened to appeal the jury verdict. Owens’s lawyer, Gretchen Mandekor, 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 said that “recent events” on the trail revealed no evidence of a ditch.

Raymond Gates, representing Skibowl, argued Owens sustained his injuries by going headfirst over his handlebars — not from hitting the post. Thus, the team contended that Owens’s crash was his “personal responsibility.”

Cannonball, Mount Hood Skibowl: Uncertain Future

Cannonball is steep and fast. Court documents stated the trail had a 17% average grade, with sections as steep as 27%. Riders can crank up to 50 mph on the trail, which Skibowl called its “most difficult on the upper mountain with high speeds, big jumps, and huge berms” in a 2016 YouTube video.

It’s unclear whether Mount Hood Skibowl plans to reopen mountain biking after the summer closure. In an undated 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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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.