Brookfield inn bans sledding, cites insurance costs

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(Host) Like other businesses in the state, Vermont’s innkeepers are paying much more these days for liability insurance. And in at least one case, the insurance companies have deemed that some activities are just too risky to allow. For example, a favorite sledding hill in Brookfield is now off limits because of liability concerns.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) With a foot of fresh snow on the ground, the hill above Pond Village in Brookfield should be an open invitation for anyone with a sled or toboggan.

(Nina Gaby) “Isn’t it absolutely gorgeous out here? If you were a kid, wouldn’t you be out here sledding?”

(Dillon) But sliding downhill is now banned in this part of Brookfield. Nina Gaby, co-owner of the Green Trails Inn, says her insurance company told her it’s too much of a risk.

(Gaby) “I had to call people and say, you can’t. Please don’t come and put us in a bad position of having to come out and tell you. You can’t sled.”

(Dillon) Gaby’s bed and breakfast has been caught in a liability insurance squeeze. Rates have gone up four times or more for some businesses.

Coverage has been hard to find. In Gaby’s case, she had to scramble to find a company to write her a policy. She ended up paying more than $8,000 a year, three times more than the year before. Then she learned she’d have to outlaw sledding. She says she pleaded with her agent to get the company to change its mind.

(Gaby) “And he said no, they just will not insure sledding on any properties. And I said, Have them come out here and see this hill. It’s a great hill. You can see there’s like just a couple little shrubby trees. It’s all bush-hogged. They wouldn’t. They said, no, absolutely not.”

(Dillon) As Gaby talks, her neighbor Curtis Koren slides up the trail on cross-country skis. Koren says the residents of Pond Village were shocked by the sledding ban.

(Koren) “They were dumbfounded. What the sledding hill? I mean come on. That’s where you just go all the time. This place is just…. There’s no powder left on a day like this because there’s just so many people out sledding.”

(Dillon) Officials at the state Department of Banking and Insurance say insurance companies have tightened up on policies and raised rates because they’ve lost money on their investments.

Gerry Zimmerman is senior counsel with the National Association of Independent Insurers. He says companies used investment income to keep rates low. He says that’s not possible in the current stock market.

(Zimmerman) “And when that investment income disappeared, companies had to go back and do a better job underwriting, making sure that they were making a profit on the amount of money that they were taking in from their customers. That’s another factor that’s led to the increase in rates that we’re seeing now.”

(Dillon) So what happens on Wall Street can reverberate on a sledding hill in Brookfield. Nina Gaby hopes that next year her insurance company will change its mind. Otherwise, she says, Vermont will lose many of the things that make it special.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon, in Brookfield.

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