Girl hurt in fall from chairlift at Highlands
ASPEN ” A 10-year-old ski school student dangled from a chairlift at Aspen Highlands for some 10 seconds Monday before falling 50 feet to the ground, according to Aspen Skiing Co. officials.
The girl, visiting Aspen from Germany, was hospitalized but escaped major injuries, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.
“She’s fortunate the injuries weren’t as bad as they could have been,” Hanle said. “We are hoping for a speedy recovery and are staying in touch with her family.”
The girl reportedly injured her torso, but a witness who asked not to be identified said she suffered a broken wrist and possibly more serious injuries.
The accident happened on the Cloud Nine chairlift around 10 a.m. Two lift operators were staffing the loading station, but neither could tell the girl had difficulty loading.
“They didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary,” Hanle said.
But the girl’s parents told officials that their daughter had problems from the time she boarded the lift, he added.
“They have told us that she wasn’t comfortable on the lift since the beginning,” he said.
A Skico news release said the girl lost her one of her skis shortly after she boarded the lift.
Hanle said the lift operators have not been disciplined, and the Skico is not admitting any liability or fault at this time.
“It’s an unfortunate accident, and it’s a tragedy,” Hanle said. “But we’re also very fortunate it wasn’t any worse.”
The girl was riding the high-speed quad with three other ski school students, and the safety bar had not been lowered, Hanle said. Hanle said ski school students are required to lower the safety bar; he did not know why the bar wasn’t lowered in this instance.
Despite conflicting reports, Hanle said what is clear is that the girl had difficulty when the chair passed the second tower. That’s when she began slipping, and by the time she reached the fifth tower she fell to the ground some 50 feet below.
The girl’s ski instructor was riding on the chair behind her student. When the instructor noticed the girl was having difficulties, she yelled to lift operators to stop the lift, Hanle said. The lift operators could not see the girl, and they faced the difficult decision of whether to stopping the lift suddenly, which could pose a threat to other passengers, or keep it running, Hanle said.
“Literally for 10 to 12 seconds there’s not a hard-and-fast rule for what to do,” Hanle said. “It’s a difficult call.”
Operators stopped the lift after the girl had fallen, Hanle said.
Ski patrol responded, and an ambulance took the girl to Aspen Valley Hospital, Hanle said. She was responsive but complained of a pain to her torso, according to the Skico news release.
About 10 people witnessed the incident, and Skico took statements from two people riding the lift with the girl. The Skico likely won’t investigate the matter further, Hanle said.
“There’s not anything else that’s going to happen,” he said. “It was seen by a large group of people, and we talked to just about everybody involved.”
Monday’s lift fall was perhaps the most harrowing on a local ski mountain since April 2, 1999. That’s when a 44-year-old man and his 8-year-old son, both from Florida, fell from the Summit Express chairlift, a high-speed quad from the bottom to the top of Buttermilk.
The two fell 40 feet from the lift in plain view of nearly 60 people, according to witness accounts at the time. The son was treated for minor injuries, and the father suffered a broken femur and pelvis.
Rick Carroll’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Though it won’t bring major changes for most Garfield County businesses, local public health officials were notified Thursday that the county will move to the less-restrictive Level Blue, effective first thing Friday.