Rolling wheel of cheese blamed for infant's injuries

An out-of-control five-kilogram wheel of aged farmhouse cheddar is being blamed for breaking an infant's leg in a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit arising from a Whistler cheese-rolling competition.

B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit claims girl's leg broken when she was struck by a 5 kg wheel of cheddar

Competitors tumble in pursuit of their quarry at the world's most famous cheese-rolling competition in Gloucester, England. A cheese-rolling contest in B.C. has led to a lawsuit. (The Associated Press)

An out-of-control five-kilogram wheel of aged farmhouse cheddar is being blamed for breaking an infant's leg in a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit arising from a Whistler cheese-rolling competition.

In a notice of civil claim filed by her guardian, Juli Nonaka claims she was injured on Blackcomb Mountain in August during the ninth annual running of the Great Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival.

"As the plaintiff was watching the event from behind a safety net on the premises, a cheese wheel came rolling down the hill and stretched the safety net colliding with the plaintiff, causing her to be knocked to the ground and sustain injury, loss and damage," the claim reads.

The legend of the 'cheese chase chaos'

Nonaka is suing the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Smak Media and Promotions and Vail Resorts, the U.S. Company which owns Whistler Blackcomb.

According to cheese-rolling historians, humans may have been chasing wheels of cheese down steep slopes since pagan times. Written accounts of cheese-rolling date back nearly 200 years.

The most famous event is held at Cooper's Hill, near Gloucester in England, where competitors chase a wheel of Double Gloucester down an incline as sharp as a 40-year-old block of cheddar.

An orange-hued cheese with a natural rind, Double Gloucester gets very hard as it ages, which is thought to be why it became associated with cheese rolling. Cheese speeds can reach more than 100 kilometres an hour.

Not surprisingly, the history of cheese rolling is replete with tales of injury.

Competitors at the Great Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival compete for a wheel of aged cheddar and season's ski passes for Whistler. (Great Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival)

According to cheeserolling.com, 22 people were injured at Cooper's Hill during the "cheese chase chaos" of 1990, including a 59-year-old woman knocked unconscious.

And in 1997, more than 33 people were wounded when things went awry, leading to a delay — but not the cancellation — of the women's event.

Concerns about safety led to the cancellation of the "official" original English cheese-rolling festival in 2010. But a backlash led to the organization of an "unofficial" event which continues to this day.

According to a news release issued this summer, 153 "determined, cheese-loving competitors and close to 10,000 enthusiasts" gathered for the ninth annual Whistler competition in August.

Winners received a wheel of cheddar and a pair of season's ski passes.

The lawsuit seeks damages for Nonaka's broken leg and other unspecified injuries.

The child's guardian claims the defendants were negligent in "failing to take reasonable steps to block off, or alter the netting that gave way and caused the cheese wheel to hit the plaintiff."

None of the respondents has filed a response to the lawsuit yet, and none had provided comment by the time of publication. Smak Media declined comment. 

None of the claims have been proven in court.