(file photo: Whitefish Mountain Resort)

Lawsuit Over Tree Well Death at Whitefish Heads for Trial

Whitefish, MT – The wrongful death lawsuit filed against Whitefish Mountain Resort over the death of a German exchange student in a tree well is headed for trial.

The case of 16-year-old Niclas Waeschle, filed by his parents against the northwestern Montana ski area, the exchange student program and Waschle’s Columbia Falls, Mont. host family, has been added to the Nov. 30 trial docket of U.S. District Court in Missoula. Waeschle was taken off of life support in January 2011, shortly after he was found upside down in a tree well by passers-by nearby the resort’s T-Bar 2,  unconscious and without a pulse.

The family’s lawsuit faults Whitefish Mountain Resort for failing to fence off the forested area where Waeschle was found, and for failing to post notices warning patrons of the dangers of tree wells. The plaintiffs argue that Whitefish had a duty to mitigate or eliminate tree wells.

(file photo: Whitefish Mountain Resort)
(file photo: Whitefish Mountain Resort)

Following a second tree well death at Whitefish less than two weeks after Waeschle’s, the resort issued a statement cautioning skiers and riders on the dangers of tree wells, an area of deep, unconsolidated snow that forms beneath the overhanging branches of evergreen trees as the surrounding snow pack deepens. The resort’s website now has a page dedicated to tree well safety.

When a skier or snowboarder falls into a tree well, the loose snow packs in around and on top of them, making it very difficult to move and/or free oneself. Further struggle can worsen the predicament.

The lawsuit faults the host family for exposing Waeschle to  “unnecessary and unreasonably risky behavior” and finds the exchange student program vicariously liable for the host family’s negligence.

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