Forest Service Letter Details Montana Snowbowl Incident

A notice of noncompliance obtained by Lift Blog through a public records request sheds new light on a March incident in which a chair contacted a tower and ejected a four year old boy at Montana Snowbowl. Lolo National Forest Supervisor Carolyn Upton wrote to Montana Snowbowl owner Brad Morris on March 29th detailing issues with the Snow Park lift, criticizing the resort’s response to the incident and requesting action by summer. The entire document is copied below with personal information redacted.

Four year old Sawyer McLeod fell from the Snow Park double March 19th after the chair he was riding collided with a halo on tower 1 shortly after loading. The boy’s father Nathan later jumped from the same chair, which was badly damaged from the collision. Neither rider was seriously injured. The lift resumed operating shortly after the incident with the affected chair marked by flagging.

Snow Park came used to Montana Snowbowl in 2019, two decades after manufacturer Riblet ceased operating. The 1966 model double was re-engineered by a third party and installed in house by mountain employees. The Forest Service says Montana Snowbowl knew about clearance issues with towers 1 and 2 by 2020 but did not take corrective action until a 2021 incident when a skier’s head contacted the halo on tower 2. On both towers 1 and 2, “modifications were made to the halo and supporting brackets to meet clearance standards,” the Forest Service noted. Nonetheless, Forest Supervisor Upton wrote that “due to the sequence of lift clearance incidents, I am concerned for the safety of skiers on the Snow Park lift.” Upton requested Montana Snowbowl seek ANSI B77.1 compliance testing by a consulting engineer independent of the lift’s designer and Forest Service to determine what actions or modifications are needed to prevent entanglements.

A second issue raised by the letter is Montana Snowbowl’s training and response to the incident. Policy dictates that lift operators are to call patrol immediately any time an unseated passenger cannot be physically reached. “The lift attendant did not properly notify the ski patrol or other lift operator in a timely manner of two unseated passengers on the Snow Park lift,” wrote Upton. “This failure to respond and report out eliminated the opportunity for Ski Patrol to perform their duties to evaluate patient condition, treat potential injuries, and address safety concerns,” she continued. Resort management also failed to notify the Forest Service of the incident involving both structural damage and potential for injury, as required by Forest Service policy. The agency didn’t find out about the incident until the following day from a concerned citizen. Upon learning of the incident, the Forest Service requested the lift be shut down and it remained shuttered the rest of the season. The Forest Service later requested Snowbowl provide a plan to improve the knowledge, skills and abilities of lift attendants and personnel to respond to accidents in an appropriate manner.

Montana Snowbowl did not respond to Lift Blog’s request for comment but issued a statement on social media the day after Supervisor Upton’s letter was sent. “We want to extend our sincerest apologies to the child and his family,” Snowbowl wrote. “We fully realize the impact this incident has had on them and the community. The safety of our customers is paramount to Snowbowl’s management and staff, and we are committed to investigating the cause of this incident and making any required changes,” the statement continued. The Forest Service’s March 29th notice began a 90 day period for the permit holder to respond. Montana Snowbowl typically opens a different double chair along with zip lines for the summer in late June, right about the time the Forest Service expects a response to its letter. The ski area’s special use permit with the Forest Service currently runs through the end of 2044.


9 thoughts on “Forest Service Letter Details Montana Snowbowl Incident

  1. Evilcamels May 1, 2023 / 6:57 pm

    Scribd links are dead btw, “document removed”


    • Evilcamels May 1, 2023 / 7:00 pm

      Unrelated, “a skier’s head contacted the halo on tower 2” stood out to me. I have to duck every ride on 7th Heaven to avoid the halo on T2 if I am on the inside seat with another rider. I’ve never really thought about it being a safety issue but maybe I should, its a light bonk on the helmet if I forget.


      • Andy May 1, 2023 / 11:01 pm

        Evilcamels: Could you please clarify you comment of “I have to duck every time I ride 7th Heaven to avoid halo on T2” There are several chairlifts in North America named 7th Heaven, and for those of us not geographically close to where you ski, we have no idea what resort you talking about, so therefore in our minds you could be defaming an honest operator elsewhere. If you are going to name a ski lift, also name the resort where it is located. thanks.


        • Billuh May 1, 2023 / 11:07 pm

          Seventh Heavens with haloes (which are rare anymore as Riblets and Thiokols steadily disappear) on tower 2 that also have a steep enough rope pitch to be a close shave limit you to likely just Stevens.


        • Andy May 2, 2023 / 6:47 am

          The general point I was making, at the risk of opening a hornet’s nest of being accused of being too critical online. is that there are lots of ski lifts across North America that share names. It would be so easy for a Liftblog Blog poster to say 7th Heaven (Steven’s Pass WA) instead of just saying 7th Heaven. Can you imagine if I wrote a post about the construction of Lift 4 in the 2023 Lift construction season? Would that be Lift 4 at Buck Hill MN to be built by Dopplemayr or Lift 4 at Taos New Mexico to be built by Leitner-Poma? There are seven (on more) lifts on the Liftblog 2023 Construction page that have a number as their name. I for one have no intention of memorizing where every major lift is in North America. Thanks for helping someone like me with a poor memory of the layout of the entire North American Lift industry.


        • Evilcamels May 2, 2023 / 1:43 pm

          My bad, I thought I mentioned Stevens but obviously didn’t. Our 7th Heaven is the original :)


    • Peter Landsman May 1, 2023 / 7:34 pm

      Sorry about that. It’s not removed but Scribd and WordPress won’t cooperate. I changed the format so you should be able to see it above now.


  2. DarksideBumper May 1, 2023 / 10:10 pm

    I rode the main base chair lift for the first time in the summer of 2017. After working fixed gripped lifts in Telluride for three years, I was horrified by the lack of safety features and was glad it was a one time trip. The owners at Snowbowl are notoriously cheap. Looking back at incidents in the last 5 years, I’m surprised no one has died.


  3. Fred Meyers May 2, 2023 / 7:18 am

    Snowbowl has a long history of disengagement from their guests.

    They have also made tremendous improvements in what they can offer skiers

    It’s been obvious since day one of Snowpark lift opening that there were design issues. Interestingly, insurers and permit agency seemed unaware or deaf to the issue. Multi system failure…

    Are two operators at lower terminal mandated by insurance or government permits?
    One loads, one watches the line. It was a Montana state rule back in the day Montana cared enough to have a Tram Board to insure public safety.

    So hopefully some engineers will extend the pivot pins on the sheave frame mounts and put a guide on both sides of the cable on that tower. And a full halo.

    Steep takeoffs seem a feature of Riblet design LaVelle is also prone to derail at tower one.

    I was there the day the T Bar in High Park derailed, cable hissing through the air as it flew down the hill I remember when there was no road maintenance or grooming.

    Kudos to Morris family for hanging in there and building a better bowl. Please change your business culture to value your guests
    Better lift op training is also indicated. That child, everyone on or boarding that lift are incredibly fortunate no further injury or mishap occurred


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