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Fence Post Ski Death Due To Poor Risk Assessment

Risk assessment failures by NZSki have emerged as central to the death of an experienced skier at Coronet Peak four years ago.

60-year-old Anita Graf-Russell died of blunt force trauma, after colliding with a wooden fence post at the bottom of Sugar’s Run in September 2019. She was a very accomplished skier who could tackle various trails and runs without any difficulty. Ms Graf-Russell was a much-loved sister, friend, mother of four, and grandmother.

Judge Geoff Rea found the operator NZSki Limited guilty of breaching its health and safety obligations in August 2023, and the company was sentenced today in the Queenstown District Court.

WorkSafe’s investigation uncovered a 2014 document from a ski patrol staffer titled Padding Hazard Register Grid. It refers to “28 fence posts, metal deer fencing and strainers in the area being very likely to be skied into at high speed. Several serious harm injuries have occurred already. Many near misses.” The staffer stated the risk score as 10 out of 10.

In his decision, Judge Rea ruled the company had been put on notice of serious safety issues concerning the fence, but had not conducted an adequate risk assessment for the fence at any stage since 2014.

“NZSki created a risk by having a ski run sloping towards a water reservoir, but did not control the subsequent risk of the fence they installed around it. The bottom line is if you create a risk, you need to assess it and control it,” says WorkSafe’s area investigation manager, Steve Kelly.

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“Skiing is obviously a leisure activity, but that doesn't excuse operators from failing to manage risk. You might be seeing a hazard in front of you so often it’s commonplace. But taking the time to go through a proper risk assessment process makes sense, especially in seasonal industries.

“Operators like this have a duty of care to not only their employees but also members of public, who are paying customers. Businesses and organisations must not lose sight of that,” says Steve Kelly.


  • NZSki Limited was sentenced at Queenstown District Court on 10 October 2023.
  • A fine of $440,000 was imposed, and reparations of $130,000 ordered
  • NZSKI was charged under sections 37(1), 48(1) and 2(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
    • Being a PCBU who controls or manages a workplace, namely Coronet Peak Ski Field, Queenstown (the Ski Field), failed to ensure so far as was reasonably practicable, that the workplace was without risks to the health and safety of any person, including Anita Maureen Graf-Russell, and that failure exposed Anita Maureen Graf-Russell to a risk of serious injury or death, arising from collision with a fence post that was part of a double height deer fence surrounding a water reservoir, at the base of the Sugar’s Run ski trail, at the Ski Field.
  • The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.

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