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Sept. 26, 2021

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Ski area sued for $30 million after 2 deaths

Lawsuit: Oregon ski area failed to warn of tree well risks


BEND, Ore. (AP) — The families of a skier and snowboarder who died on the same day at a central Oregon ski area jointly filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $30 million.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in Deschutes County Circuit Court contends Mt. Bachelor failed to warn of the risks of tree wells after weeks of snowfall.

Tree wells are voids that form beneath trees and can kill people who fall into them. Falling in headfirst can lead to snow collapsing down onto the skier or snowboarder as they struggle to get out.

Alfonso Braun, 24, of Bend and 19-year-old Nicole Panet-Raymond of Eugene suffocated in tree wells in separate incidents on different parts of the mountain in 2018.

The lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor owner Powder Corp. said the ski area “knew or should have known of the danger” after three weeks of snow that could produce tree wells “into which skiers and snowboarders could fall, become buried in snow, trapped and suffocate to death.”

The lawsuit said that both Braun, who was snowboarding, and Panet-Raymond, who was skiing, were within the ski area’s boundary when they fell into the tree wells.

“These types of incidents caused by hazards naturally present in the mountain environment are thankfully rare,” Mt. Bachelor President and General Manager John McLeod said in a statement. “Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the affected families and friends.”

At about noon on March 2, 2018, Braun’s body was found under about 6 feet of snow in an area of the mountain called the West Bowls, which is for experts. He had been on the mountain with a friend, but they lost sight of each other.

Panet-Raymond was reported missing at about 3:30 p.m. the same day. Searchers found her body about five hours later under 6 feet of snow in an area for intermediate skiers.

“They (Panet-Raymond and Braun) were both in-bounds in the area where the ski resort would expect them to be,” said Portland attorney Dan Dziuba, who is representing the families. “The resort knows people like to ski in the powder and that’s in the trees, and that’s where the tree wells are.”

In March 2019, Kenneth Brundidge, 53, an experienced skier from Oregon City, died on Mt. Bachelor after falling into a tree well.