A Texas woman died and her two daughters, ages 9 and 12, were injured after falling more than 20 feet from a four-person chair lift at a small Colorado ski resort, about 90 miles west of Denver. The coroner determined that the woman died from blunt force trauma to her torso and a traumatic rupture of the aorta. The 9-year-old was airlifted to the hospital; her condition is unknown. The 12-year-old was treated and released.
The incident happened on the Quick Draw Express Lift at the Ski Granby Ranch, a 400-acre family-oriented resort known for being frequented by amateur skiers and snowboarders. Investigators have not said what caused the family to fall, but the chair remained attached to the cable, according to witnesses.
One skier said he was on the lift three chairs behind the family when the incident occurred. He claims the safety bar was not down on the family’s chair lift and it was swaying side to side. The man said when the bar hit the sign on a pole, the three fell out. Another skier said she and her family had been riding the lift for the past three days and were constantly getting stuck. Each stop caused the chair lift to bounce and sway. A third resort guest raised concerns about the Lift on Facebook just one day before the accident. Her post asked what was going on with the Quick Draw Lift and said, ‘Seems like it is having frequent mechanical issues.’
Although the resort is operational, the Quick Draw Lift will remain closed until an inspection by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board and lift manufacturer can determine that it is safe for the public to use.
Injuries and deaths from chair lift accidents are rare, according to industry statistics. Most chair lift incidents are minor and occur when inexperienced or inattentive skiers fail to get situated properly in the chair at the loading platform. “You don’t normally have somebody who’s successfully loaded, sitting in the chair, and they fall off the lift, said Scott Brandi, president of Ski Areas of New York Inc. “In most cases, it has to do with the skier leaning over to buckle boots or twisting to talk to a friend or scooting forward to get snow out from under their butt or something that causes their body position to move,” he said.
According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), while statistics are kept on accidents related to lift malfunctions, data is not widely kept with regard to passengers failing out of chair lifts for other reasons. In Colorado, however, such incidents are recorded; 86% were attributed to skier error. The last death on a chair lift attributed to a malfunction was in 1993, according to an October report by the NSAA.
Although in Colorado, there is no law mandating the use of the safety bar, the accident still raises many questions. Did the woman forget to pull down the safety bar? Had she been instructed to do so before getting on the lift? Did it come unlatched for some reason? Was the chair lift properly inspected and maintained? Only a complete investigation will help answer these questions and more.
While chair lift accidents are rare, many can still be avoided if skiers simply take precautions to ensure his/her own safety.
- While waiting for the lift, remove the pole straps from your wrist and put both poles in one hand.
- When the lift nears the back of your legs, grab the center bar with your free hand and sit, scooting all the way to the back of the chair.
- When riding the chair lift, keep your ski tips up and hold on tightly to all your gear.
- Keep the safety bar down at all times during the ride.
- Don’t lean forward, swing your legs, or do anything that would cause the chair lift to swing.
- If you feel like you’re about to drop something while on the lift, do NOT lean forward and grab at the item. Just let it fall.
- Many ski resorts have signs that tell you when to raise the safety bar, but if not, don’t raise the bar until the chair lift is nearing the unloading station.
- Watch for signs or markers that tell you when to disembark the chair lift. Scoot forward on your chair and raise your skis slightly so you can glide off the lift.
- If there are no markers, simply stand up when you feel your skis touch the snow.
- When getting off of the lift, hold on to your ski poles tightly.
- After standing up, ski to the side, out of the way of other chair lift passengers.
- Ask for assistance if you are a beginning skier
For accidents that may be the fault of defective equipment or inadequate inspection and maintenance, you may need to seek the advice of an experienced attorney.
Stay safe and have fun on the slopes this winter.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.