$600k in penalties for skier’s death

Queenstown skifield owner NZSki was ‘‘put on notice’’ about the risks posed by a wood and metal fence on Coronet Peak, five years before local, Anita Graf, died after skiing into it, a judge says.

The company, which also owns The Remarkables and Mt Hutt skifields, was sentenced to nearly $600,000 in penalties in Queenstown’s court on Tuesday in relation to Graf’s 2019 death.

The 60-year-old couldn’t be revived after skiing into an unpadded fence post at the bottom of Sugar’s Run on the morning of September 21.

WorkSafe alleged the company’s risk assessment of the fence was inadequate, and ‘‘safety catch net fencing’’ should have been installed along its length to protect skiers.

After a trial in Queenstown’s court in April, NZSki was found guilty and convicted in August on a Health and Safety at Work Act charge of exposing Graf to risk of death or serious injury by failing to adequately assess the risks posed by the fence.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

At this week’s sentencing, Judge Geoff Rea imposed a $440,000 fine after taking account of NZSki’s cooperation with WorkSafe and its installation of safety catch net fencing in front of the fence, and at two other locations on the skifield, after the accident.

The company’s also been ordered to pay $130,000 emotional harm reparation to Graf’s family, and $28,000 prosecution costs.

Graf, a long-time local and mum of four, was an expert skier who’d previously worked at Coronet as a ski instructor.

Her children and sister did not want their victim impact statements read out in court, however, Rea said it had been his ‘‘sad task’’ to read them.

Unpadded: A floral tribute to Anita Graf left on an unprotected fence post

The company was alerted to the risks posed by the fence in a 2014 document prepared by a ski patroller, but failed to carry out a ‘‘proper, documented risk assessment’’, he said.

The document, discovered on a computer during WorkSafe’s investigation, identified 28 fence posts, metal deer fencing and strainers as being ‘‘very likely to be skied into at high speed’’.

But the ski area manager at the time recommended to the company’s board in 2015 that only nine posts be padded.

It was clear the company’s health and safety system ‘‘broke down’’ in this instance, and chief executive Paul Anderson had described his reaction at learning of the document’s existence as a ‘‘WTF moment’’.

Anderson says the company’s been found guilty of failing to document a risk assessment of the fence, rather than failing to mitigate the hazard it had posed.

‘‘We’ve not been found guilty of not doing something on the mountain.

‘‘We’ve been found guilty of not documenting a risk assessment, and that’s an important point to distinguish.’’

NZSki had argued at trial it did carry out a risk assessment of the fence prior to Graf’s death, but the judge had found it wasn’t adequate.

Asked if the company would appeal the sentence, Anderson says it’s ‘‘not really the time to think about that’’.

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