Locals file lawsuits against Alpine Meadows a year after avalanche

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

Cole Comstock, 34, of Blairsden, died in an avalanche at Alpine Meadows the morning of Jan. 17, 2020. His good friend, Kaley Bloom, suffered serious injuries to his lower extremities. Both were Quincy High School graduates and avid skiers.

A year later, Comstock’s widow, Caitlin Raymond (as she is listed in the complaint), and Bloom have filed lawsuits against the ski resort. Raymond’s complaint alleges negligence, gross negligence, breach of contract and wrongful death, while Bloom’s complaint cites negligence, gross negligence and breach of contract. They are seeking unspecified, unlimited damages, but at an amount greater than $25,000.

Both complaints were filed in Placer County Superior Court — Raymond’s on Jan. 29 and Bloom’s on Feb. 2. And both are being represented by the Sacramento-based firm of Ellis Law Group, LLP. The documents are signed by Mark Ellis, whose profile lists successful settlements reached in wrongful death cases.

A case management hearing is scheduled for Raymond’s filing May 25 in Roseville; Bloom’s is set for June 1. In their complaints, Raymond and Bloom are asking for jury trials.

Both suits allege that Alpine Meadows should not have opened access to the ski area where the avalanche occurred. Comstock and Bloom were skiing in an in-bound area between “Scott Shute” and “Promised Land” near the Scott chair lift at an elevation of 7,000 to 8,000 feet.

According to a portion of Raymond’s complaint: “On information and belief, Plaintiff alleges the Alpine Meadows ski resort has been the site of a high number of avalanche deaths. In-bounds avalanche deaths are rare; most ski fatalities occur outside of ski resort boundaries. Plaintiff alleges the resort should not have opened this ski run under the circumstances, as they existed that day, given, among other things, the previous night’s heavy snowfall, gusty winds, and unstable snowpack, as well as inadequate and/or incomplete avalanche mitigation efforts. Under these circumstances, Defendants increased the risk of injury and death beyond the risk normally assumed by a skier because the decedent Cole, and his companion believed they were skiing on a ‘mitigated’ run. But in fact, Defendant’s mitigation measures did not decrease or mitigate risks, but instead further increased the risk and turned a dangerous area into a deadly one.”

Bloom’s complaint reiterated much of the surrounding circumstances that appeared in Raymond’s. A portion of Bloom’s complaint reads: “As a direct and foreseeable consequence of Defendant’s failure to properly oversee, perform, supervise and/or manage the avalanche mitigation work, the avalanche occurred in the area, resulting in severe and ongoing injury to Plaintiff.”

Alpine Meadows released the following statement to various news outlets following questions regarding the two complaints: “While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, January 17, 2020, was a devastating day for our team at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, and we continue to share our deepest sympathies with the family and friends of the deceased.”

Plumas News obtained a copy of the “Assumption of Risk, Release of Liability and Indemnification Agreement” that skiers are required to sign to purchase a ski pass. In bold letters, a portion reads: “When I engage in snow season activities, including without limitation skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hockey, tubing, and snowmobiling, and other winter activities (collectively the “winter activities”) I acknowledge that participation in such winter activities can be dangerous and involve the risk of injury or death.”

It goes on to read: “I understand winter activities involve numerous risks including, but not limited to, the risks posed by variations in terrain and snow conditions, surface and subsurface snow conditions, icy or firm snow, unmarked obstacles, thin snow cover, bare spots, bumps, moguls, stumps, forest growth and debris, erosion control devices, rocks, cliffs, steep terrain, deep snow, avalanches and other hazards.”

It concludes with a clause: “I agree never to sue and to release from liability … ”

Plumas News reached out to Alpine Meadows and asked if the agreements had been signed by Comstock and Bloom, and is awaiting a response.

A year ago

Editor’s note: Plumas News interviewed Caitlin Raymond Comstock last January the day after the avalanche and published the following story:

Caitlin and Cole Comstock on their wedding day in 2016. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Comstock

The day after her husband’s death Caitlin Comstock reflected on their last time together and the moment rescuers brought him down the mountain.

They had been riding the chairlift that morning when Cole pointed to an area that he planned to ski. It was an inbound area on the back side of the mountain, an area that Caitlin said had not been open before, but had been bombed that morning as a precaution against avalanches.

As they disembarked, they tapped the toes of their skis, said their “I love yous” and went off to ski.

“He loved skiing,” Caitlin said. “His goal was to ski 50 times this year.”

Sometime between 10 and 10:30 that morning, the avalanche occurred. “Our friends witnessed it and got over to the chairlift to notify the operators,” Caitlin said. She added that the ski patrol arrived almost immediately.

She waited at the bottom of the hill, and the ski patrol brought down the first stretcher. She didn’t know it was her husband. She said the individual was covered in snow and his face was covered in blood. She has been trained as an EMT and knew that the injuries were serious. It was only when she saw the boots, that she realized it was Cole. He had already died.

About 30-40 minutes later, Kaley was brought down. “He had hit a tree, just like Cole,” Caitlin said. “But the snow kept moving over the top of him and kept his face clear.” While Cole suffered head trauma (even though he was wearing a helmet), Kaley’s injuries were to his lower body. Friends of Kaley have reported that he has serious injuries to both of his legs.

Some friends remained with Kaley at the Truckee hospital, while others accompanied Caitlin back to her mother’s home in Clio. Caitlin is the daughter of Kathy and the late Bob Raymond. Cole’s mother is Rose Comstock. She is a former Plumas County Supervisor and resides in Graeagle.

Caitlin spent the first 24 hours after her husband’s death fielding calls from roughly a dozen news outlets and experiencing the shock of losing her husband of just over three years.

“He was such an amazing man,” she said.

In a statement that she released to media, Caitlin said, “Cole was the most kind-hearted and caring person to his friends and even strangers. He always went out of his way to make everyone feel loved and cared for and welcome and was always the first person to introduce himself to new people because he just wanted to be everyone’s friend.

“He was extremely hardworking and put everyone else’s needs first and never complained once about it. He loved skiing and loved living life. He deeply loved his friends, his family, and above all his wife.

“He supported everyone with all of his heart and was a true example of unconditional love. If there is one thing about Cole’s life to take away, remember to always be kind to one another and celebrate each others victories, not because you need something, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Caitlin said that details regarding services are still pending, but there will probably be a small gathering for immediate family and friends soon, but then a big party to celebrate his life later this year.

There was an impromptu celebration of his life the night he died, with friends gathering at their favorite hangout, the Knotty Pine Tavern in Graeagle. Caitlin stayed home, but she said it was apparently “wall to wall people” all sharing stories about Cole.

When asked if there was anything that she would like to say to her local community, Caitlin said, “Cole would want everyone to keep loving harder and make every minute count. Don’t hold grudges and fix any mangled relationships. That’s what he was trying to do this year.”

A GoFundMe site has been established for Caitlin as well as an account at Plumas Bank. Similarly, a GoFundMe site has been set up for Kaley Bloom.

 

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