Swiss Lift Co's Consider Mountain Bike Trail Operations

After the winter season comes the summer season. An accident on a mountain bike facility (piste) in Graubünden that is closed seasonally raises similar questions to those that arise in winter with snow sports facilities: How should mountain bike slopes be handled that are not yet open or are already closed? The question is answered below with the help of two practitioners.

The initial situation

In recent years, mountain railways have repeatedly been confronted with the issue of ski slopes that are not yet accessible at the beginning of the season or are no longer accessible in the spring due to a lack of snow. The fact that the question also arises in a similar way in connection with mountain bike (MTB) slopes is evident from a case in Graubünden that led to a discontinuance order by the public prosecutor's office at the beginning of 2024.

The case

In the late afternoon, a small group of mountain bikers rode their own mountain bikes up from the valley to a mountain station of the cable car company to reach the start of a trail. The trail is classified as difficult and marked black. The cable car facilities and the MTB facilities were still closed at this time due to the season.

When they reach the mountain station, the group gets ready for the descent and starts. One of the mountain bikers, who was only wearing a helmet as protective equipment, set off in the middle of the group and was on this track for the first time. When he hit a wooden bridge construction, he was frightened by the rest of the track and braked slightly. This carried him over the bend and he fell headfirst over the construction and landed next to the construction in a pile of logs and branches. He suffered serious injuries in this fall.

The legal assessment

The cable car company's website explicitly stated that this MTB trail was closed. The information about the closed trail was also available on the corresponding smartphone app and on an interactive map, as well as on the cable car company's information screens.

At the time of the accident, the MTB facility (piste) was neither open nor repaired, and in some places there was even still snow. The cable car company had not yet started its summer operations. There were no circumstances that would have led to the conclusion that this MTB facility (piste) was open.

The cable car company had no duty to ensure traffic safety. For this reason, the responsible public prosecutor's office decided to discontinue the criminal investigation.

The reactions

When asked, Romano Pajarola, head of the safety advisory center, is of the opinion that the corresponding barrier signals and information boards at the start of the trail were not necessary, as the trail was not open at all due to the season, just like the cable cars. The public prosecutor's decision to discontinue the proceedings does not surprise him, and this is crystal clear to him, also taking into account the principle of the duty to ensure traffic safety: the duty to ensure traffic safety for the summer facilities, just like in winter, is generally limited to the duration of the cable car company's normal operating hours. Even after the end of operations, no special safety precautions can be expected, and even less so outside of the season.

Walter Maffioletti, Head of Legal and Security, fully agrees and states that, to his knowledge, such constellations are few and far between.

The final word

Whether in winter or summer, information is crucial: it must be communicated clearly and unambiguously that the facilities are still (or already) closed. Anyone who adheres to this principle is on the right side, as can be seen from the discontinuance order of a Graubünden public prosecutor's office: In this case, it is clear that this MTB facility (piste) was closed and not in operation at the time of the accident. This was at least communicated on the website and the app. There were no circumstances that would allow the conclusion that the MTB facility (piste) was open.

This decision is included in the case law platform that has been available to SBS members since the beginning of 2024. It currently includes three Federal Court rulings on a scooter crash, an accident that hit a tree while doing a Tyrolean sled, and a collision between two tobogganing devices.

The platform is an important information tool for those responsible for security and is limited to the essential information for each case in easy-to-understand language. However, it is hoped that the number of cases will remain as low as it has been so far.

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