Another child falls from Rocky Mountain ski lift
January 14, 2010
SALT LAKE CITY – A young skier who fell from a Utah lift was riding a chair that had a safety bar, proving the device isn’t fail-safe and may even have its drawbacks, ski resort executives said Wednesday.
Tuesday’s fall in Park City marked at least the third time a skier fell off a chair at a Rocky Mountain ski area in less than a month, surprising regulators and resorts, who say it rarely happens.
Deer Valley Resort said the boy fell 20 to 30 feet off Sterling Express chair, a modern detachable lift that’s considered the standard of safety. Detachable lifts slow down when they pick up and drop off skiers.
The boy was with a ski instructor and another young child near the top of the lift, getting ready to push off the chair when the he slipped, Deer Valley spokeswoman Erin Grady said.
He wasn’t seriously injured, Park City police Capt. Phil Kirk said.
The experience of resorts suggests safety bars don’t make a difference, said Onno Wieringa, general manager of Alta Ski Area, scene of a December accident,
Alta’s lifts have no safety bars, and Utah doesn’t require it.
“They’re almost a false sense of security,” Wieringa said Wednesday. “Just as many people fall out with as without them. Kids can slide under them. At the end of the day, I think, maybe it’s better that they’re a little scared.”
That can persuade skiers to sit back in a chair, the safest position, he said.
At Alta ski area, a 4-year-old girl who fell Dec. 18 from a chair lift was found face-down in the snow and not breathing when ski patrol arrived. She made a full recovery days later at a hospital.
“She was squirming around, looking at something, and spun out of the chair,” Wieringa said. “She was sitting right there with her mother.”
Parents are the key to their children’s safety, said Peter Dahlberg, an engineer and board member of the Utah Passenger Ropeway Safety Committee.
The Utah Department of Transportation regulates the operation and safety of ski lifts, but officials say they never felt the need to mandate safety bars.
“I taught my kids to ski from a young age. As a parent, I always held them in a chair. Since my kids are out of their teens now, I think I succeeded,” Dahlberg said.
On Dec. 30, another boy fell off a chair lift at Snow King Resort in Jackson, Wyo.
Snow King’s operations director, Greg Smith, referred questions about the accident to Tom Fortune, the company’s recreation director, who didn’t return phone messages Wednesday from The Associated Press.
Grady said Deer Valley was still trying to determine the sequence of events that led to the boy’s fall Tuesday.
“It’s not a common occurrence,” she said.
The resort said he was taken to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, where a spokeswoman, Bonnie Midget, said she wasn’t immediately able to identify the boy or find out his condition.
It was the third child since the holidays to show up at the hospital after falling off a Utah chair lift, Midget said.