Child Falls, Father Self Lowers After Chair Damaged Hitting Tower at Montana Snowbowl

Nathan McLeod works to lower himself from a damaged chair after it contacted a tower near the loading station of the Snow Park double chair.

A double chair was left mangled and two people were thankfully uninjured after a harrowing incident at Montana Snowbowl last Sunday first reported by the Missoulian. Nathan McLeod was skiing with his two young sons March 19th when the incident happened at the bottom of the Snow Park double chair. In a phone interview this afternoon, McLeod told Lift Blog that his older son Cassidy loaded one chair ahead of him with a stranger, as is common on double chairs when families cannot ride together. McLeod said loading of the first chair did not go perfectly, and even though both Cassidy and the stranger ended up seated, the chair began to swing in a circular motion. That caused the next chair with McLeod and his four year old son Sawyer to also begin swinging.

McLeod self-lowers from the chair after the lift stopped.

The second chair contacted tower 1 with such force to both eject Sawyer and cause the chair’s back and base to bend backward significantly. McLeod said he tried to grab Sawyer to prevent him from falling but that the chair was “falling apart at the same time.” McLeod held on and the lift stopped but he eventually decided to lower himself and jump the rest of the way to help his son. The lift operator also came to Sawyer’s aid and gave the four year old a hug. Because the Snow Park chair is the only way out of the terrain it services and McLeod’s older son Cassidy was still on the lift above, dad and Sawyer eventually rode up in a different chair and reunited at the summit. McLeod says Snowbowl personnel looked at the damaged chair at the top station for about 10 minutes but eventually restarted the lift and continued loading the rest of the chairs for at least the remainder of the day. The McLeod family skied to the base and later saw doctors to get checked out. By Thursday, the Lolo National Forest learned of the mishap and requested Snowbowl to temporarily close Snow Park, which it did.

The lift continued to operate after the incident with flagging tied to the damaged chair.

Snow Park is a Riblet double installed at Montana Snowbowl between 2017 and 2019 but dates back to 1966. It previously operated as Burlingame at Snowmass, Colorado, where it received a used Poma drive terminal in 2005. At Snowbowl, the lift includes 142 center pole chairs with insert clips and no restraining bars. McLeod says Snowbowl instructs small children to load on the inside and adults on the outside of chairs, which can cause them to swing and lean inward toward towers.

Damaged chair seen at the top drive terminal after the loading incident.

Although Montana Snowbowl purchased a brand new Skytrac triple last summer, the mountain’s other chairlifts are all Riblets dating back to the 1960s through ’80s. An empty chair fell from the LaValle chair in 2020, necessitating a rope evacuation. Another empty Riblet chair fell at Snowbowl in 2011.

Lift Blog contacted Montana Snowbowl owner Brad Morris for comment on the incident earlier this week but did not receive a response. In an interview with the Missoulian, Snowbowl employee Andy Morris acknowledged that lightweight Riblet chairs have a tendency to swing after mis-loads but that the lift was designed by a professional engineer and is regularly inspected by the Forest Service and the mountain’s insurance company (Montana’s state Board of Passenger Tramway Safety was dissolved in the 1990s). Thursday Andy Morris met with the Forest Service and the lift’s engineer and agreed to complete a “minor change” to the tower. Morris told the Missoulian he believes the chair Sawyer and Nathan were on missed the tower’s halo and contacted another part of the tower.

McLeod said while he does not fault the lift operator for her actions and wishes the best for Snowbowl, he is disappointed in the mountain’s response to the incident, namely lack of communication and the decision to continue running the lift indefinitely with the damaged chair. “I just want Snowbowl to get their s*** together,” he said.


23 thoughts on “Child Falls, Father Self Lowers After Chair Damaged Hitting Tower at Montana Snowbowl

  1. JSY March 24, 2023 / 8:09 pm

    I was always taught the heavier person should ride to the inside of a center pole Riblet….opposite of what’s said here and also pictured.
    “Minor Change” most likely halo adjustment. Appears some shimming of the sheave train axles in the one photo….


    • pbropetech March 25, 2023 / 9:32 am

      Yeah, tough to tell from the photos but it sort of appears that the halo on tower 1 is too high, allowing the chairs to swing into the tower more than normal. Any chair guidage (as specified by code) shouldn’t allow the carriers to swing inward more than 15 degrees off the vertical.

      We always put the kids on the outside at Baker as well.


      • Chase March 25, 2023 / 6:03 pm

        The idea behind kids on the inside allows the lift operator to assist kids while parents/adults can focus on getting themselves on the chair.

        Typically there isn’t enough chair swing or weight difference to come close to the tower. But a rough load and not slowing/stopping when that first chair is still swinging can easily cause these kinds of ripples to other chairs.


        • pbropetech March 27, 2023 / 7:56 am

          I understand that- when we had kids loading with adults on our centre-pole lifts the operator would hop to the outside of the ramp to assist them.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. MavRat March 24, 2023 / 9:04 pm

    I think Snowbowl needs to reexamine its policy of making the kids ride on the inside… most mountains with centerpole riblets load the heavier person/adult on the inside & the kid on the outside precisely so that the chair swings AWAY from the towers & this exact type of accident doesn’t happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. RandyM March 24, 2023 / 9:36 pm

    The fact that they continued to operate the chairlift blows my mind. No area in Colorado would ever think of doing that. (Plus I’m sure they’d be fined by the Tramway board, which I’m glad we still have). That have to be some major blow to the tower to cause that damage. Glad no major injuries to those riding.


    • Ryan March 25, 2023 / 4:00 am

      That or the chairs are rusty and in poor condition, which I doubt.


  4. Kirk March 25, 2023 / 8:02 am

    Yep, sounds like a run no matter what and at all costs type of operation.
    Not closing the lift and at least doing a full visual carrier inspection is unacceptable.


  5. Resolve.Action.Love 🌻 (@Snowman55403) March 25, 2023 / 10:55 am

    Empty chair falls in 2020.
    Empty chair falls in 2021.
    (Mis)loaded chair strikes tower and is destroyed 2023.

    I’m not likely to visit Montana any more for other reasons, but man, I’d avoid this ski area entirely.


  6. JB March 25, 2023 / 1:09 pm

    observations…2nd pic you can see the ‘halo tab’ is bent up where connected to the depress assy halo drop piece….did chair basket connect with the halo or was halo previously bent which allowed chair contact with tower… . 3rd pic appears the light assy shimmed a fair amount.


    • Sever March 27, 2023 / 6:12 am

      Comments on the local news article said that they moved the halos after the initial installation because it was possible to hit your head somehow


  7. Charles Olson March 25, 2023 / 6:58 pm

    I’ve always thought those old center-pole Riblet chairs were incredibly flimsy looking.


    • Billuh March 27, 2023 / 11:08 pm

      And yet not actually flimsy being. These chairs have outlasted generations of cars and trucks. Some of the older ones likely are at life’s end, but Riblets were never flimsy.


  8. Kirk March 25, 2023 / 7:18 pm

    Guards / Halo’s / Riblets
    The carrier shall be capable of swinging 8 degrees without contacting the guard. When the carrier contacts the guard there shall be a minimum of 12″of clearance between the intermost part of the chair and tower.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pbropetech March 27, 2023 / 7:58 am

      8 degrees is less than I thought.


      • Kirk March 27, 2023 / 8:23 am

        Yeah the guard specifications hasn’t changed since the lift was built.
        Old ANSI was either a guard or 15 degrees laterally with no contact. Later and in the 2022 ANSI with no guard. It’s the combination of 15 degrees laterally and 15 degrees longitudinal.


        • pbropetech March 27, 2023 / 9:23 am

          Ah. The 15 and 15 is what I’m used to hearing lately, that makes sense.


  9. cooper johnson March 26, 2023 / 2:37 pm

    I can understand running the lift to get everyone else off but interesting decision to keep it running for the rest of the day.


    • cooper johnson March 26, 2023 / 2:39 pm

      Run it if it’s safe to do so and not load the damaged chair*


  10. Kirk April 1, 2023 / 7:34 am

    After reading the latest news on the accident at Montana Snow Bowl.
    It appears that this is an area that runs a sloppy operation??
    When the USFS shuts a lift down for non-compliance, that’s amazing.
    This accident happened on a old lift. But we have seen have recently seen several pictures of detachable lift chairs laying in the snow also.


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