Park City Fined Following Employee Lift Fall Death

The Utah Division of Occupational Safety and Health (UOSH) issued a $2,500 violation to Park City Mountain for the January death of an employee after a tree fell on the Short Cut triple chair. The fine was assessed in March but first reported by Fox 13 Utah reporter Nate Carlisle over the weekend. The state found that Park City and parent company Vail Resorts should have known of the hazard of falling trees because two trees had to be removed from the same lift line the day before the accident. The state also found that lift operators were not trained or knowledgeable enough to assess trees for hazard along lift lines during morning line rides.

Park City Mountain received 25 inches of heavy, wet snow in the days leading up to the January 2nd incident. The day prior, Short Cut opened late due to a tree leaning on the lift that had to be removed. The Yan triple chair was closed later that day at 1:19 pm to remove another hazard tree identified by a lift mechanic. Less than 24 hours later, another tree fell on the heavy side of the line between towers 6 and 7. That time a patroller, 29 year old Christian Helger, was riding a chair nearby. The lift de-roped off a tower with the heavy side coming to rest in a rope catcher as designed. Helger was thrown from the chair, fell approximately 50 feet and landed head first in deep snow. Due to his location in a ravine and snow safety concerns, it took time for additional patrollers to reach the scene and dig Helger out. Despite lifesaving rescue efforts, Helger could not be revived and was later found to have died by asphyxiation. Other riders on the lift, including guests, were later evacuated by rope. The report does not address whether Helger had his lap bar down as required by Vail Resorts company policy.

The state interviewed numerous employees after the accident. One patroller identified only as “employee #4” said “Lift Operators are usually newer, younger employees, and have ‘no idea’ what to look for on a Line Ride.” Another patroller, who had previously worked as a lift operator, said “there is pressure to get lifts open in the morning, and there was ‘no time’ to ski the runs and check the lifts.” A Short Cut lift operator on duty the day of the accident reported that “he was told during the morning Line Ride to look for the cable being centered on the sheaves, and to look for trees leaning on the line but that he did not know what an unstable tree would look like.”

“Based on documents and photos received from all sources, the heavy snow received on January 1, and overnight into January 2, and the fact that two trees had to be removed from the Shortcut Lift line on January 1, 2023, VR-CPC Holdings (Vail Park City Resort management) should have been aware of the hazard of possible falling trees around the Shortcut Lift,” wrote the state, issuing a “serious” violation with a fine of $2,500. Vail Resorts has contested the citation and the fine could be reduced or eliminated in the future. In a statement, Park City Mountain vice president and chief operating officer Deirdra Walsh said “The Park City Mountain team is deeply saddened by the tragic death of our team member, Christian Helger. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

Short Cut never reopened during the season and requires significant repairs this summer.

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.

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.

Six Year Old Dies in Quebec T-Bar Incident

Quebec’s Val Saint-Côme reported a young girl died following an accident on a T-Bar Sunday morning. “The family of Val-Saint-Côme is deeply saddened by a tragic accident which occurred Sunday on the mountain,” said François Gagnon, President and CEO of the resort in a statement. “A young skier unfortunately lost her life during the ascent of a T-Bar style lift. It goes without saying that all our thoughts go out to family and friends. An investigation is underway to understand the circumstances of the accident and we will cooperate fully with the authorities.”

The “A” T-Bar serves as a beginner lift and was built by Doppelmayr in 1979.

The resort had just finished hosting an FIS World Cup freestyle skiing event Saturday and closed early Sunday following the child’s death.

Update: Preliminary reports suggest the girl’s clothing may have become entangled with a T. At this time authorities do not believe the lift malfunctioned. The T-Bar remains closed.

Park City Mountain Employee Killed After Tree Falls on Chairlift

A tree fell on the Short Cut triple around 10:45 am this morning at Park City Mountain, causing a ski patroller on the lift to fall more than 25 feet. Despite swift rescue efforts, the 29 year old worker did not survive. Ten other passengers on the lift were evacuated and several other chairlifts in the area were closed to support the ski patrol response. The mountain had received 25 inches of dense snow in the past 48 hours as part of a major storm cycle.

“The Park City Mountain team – as well as the entire Vail Resorts team – extend our deepest sympathy and support to the family and friends of our team member,” said Deirdra Walsh, Park City Mountain vice president & chief operating officer. “We are all deeply saddened by this tragic incident, and we will be providing support for our employees as we grieve this devastating loss.”

Short Cut was installed in 1997 and features triple chairs with lap bars. The lift will remain closed until an investigation is complete. Other lifts in the area are expected to reopen tomorrow.

Update 1/4: Authorities identified the deceased ski patroller as 29 year old Christian Helger of Millcreek, Utah. The cause of death will be determined by the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.

Chair Falls from High Speed Quad at Breckenridge

A quad chair detached from Breckenridge’s Peak 8 SuperConnect today as high winds buffeted the Central Rockies region. The below video shows the upbound chair came to rest just below the upper terminal. “At approximately 10:35 a.m. today, a chair dislodged from the haul rope of the Peak 8 SuperConnect as it was reaching the top terminal,” read a statement from the resort. “One guest was on the chair at the time and fell approximately 13 feet. Ski patrol responded immediately. No injuries were reported and the guest declined further care,” the statement continued. According to witnesses, other riders were slowly offloaded from the lift under normal power. Numerous upper mountain lifts were on hold at the time due to wind and cold temperatures.

The lift involved was built by Leitner-Poma in 2002 and connects Peaks 8 and 9 with three stations. There are normally 190 chairs on the line.

“We place the highest value on the safety of our guests and the Peak 8 SuperConnect will remain closed for the rest of the day,” the resort noted. “We are still actively gathering information and the lift will undergo a full inspection prior to reopening to the public.”

This is the second carrier to fall from a detachable lift in North America this season. Earlier this month, an empty gondola fell from Mont-Sainte-Anne’s gondola, an incident blamed on human error after a grip attach fault. Last season, an occupied gondola cabin fell from the Sunday River Chondola in high winds. Prior to that, a chair detachment at Camelback, Pennsylvania injured three people in March 2021.

Government of Quebec Orders Mont-Sainte-Anne to Remain Closed

Four chairlifts and the gondola at Mont-Sainte-Anne will not carry passengers again until regulators receive a full report into last Saturday’s gondola detachment and the resort takes additional steps to ensure safety. Though no one was injured last weekend, the fall of the cabin was the third serious incident in three years on the gondola and follows numerous other failures and evacuations of lifts at Mont-Sainte-Anne. A nine page order issued today by the Quebec Building Authority (RBQ) prevents operation of the 1989 Doppelmayr gondola L’Étoile Filante as well as the mountain’s three detachable quads and one fixed grip quad. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s two T-Bars and other surface lifts are not affected.

“During the morning startup of the R-176 (L’Étoile filante) ski lift last Saturday, a malfunction occurred in the attachment of cabin number 92 to the cable of the lift,” the agency wrote in a press release. “The checks that were made before the ski lift was put into operation did not comply with the requirements of the CSA Z98:19 standard or the manufacturer’s instructions.” Z98 is the Canadian equivalent of the ANSI B77.1 standard for passenger ropeways in the United States. Specifically, the agency said the lift stopped itself that morning and displayed an “incorrectly positioned grip lever ± 10%” fault. “The mechanic dispatched to the scene carried out a simple visual inspection and authorized the restart of the lift,” the agency stated. Doppelmayr’s manual instead prescribes running the lift slowly in reverse, removing occupants if applicable and running the affected carrier empty through the switch again. If the same fault repeats, the cabin should be removed from the line immediately. Instead, the lift was quickly restarted in the forward direction and cabin 92 tripped another safety system on towers 23 and 24 before falling to the ground. Even though the lift had not opened to the public for the day, employees were on line and had to be evacuated.

The RBQ noted it has issued more than 25 correction notices to Mont-Saint-Anne since 2015. That year, an unnecessary rope evacuation occurred on the Express du Nord due to personnel having insufficient training. Also in 2015, a ski instructor and child jumped from the Express du Sud as their chair, stuck on a tower, was hit by other chairs. The lift continued moving despite the derailment and sustained significant damage. That mishap was blamed on “lack of maintenance.” Six days later, the same lift was rope evacuated due to motor and gearbox failures.

A pair of 2020 incidents on the gondola were both sudden stops that led to guest injuries, some requiring hospitalization. The RBQ noted that “shortcomings with regard to maintenance” were found and it took more than a year for the lift to be repaired (perhaps in part due to Covid). In addition to $1.5 million in upgrades, approximately half of the cabins on the gondola were decommissioned.

Today’s order outlined steps which must be taken before Mont-Sainte-Anne can return aerial lifts to operation. “For the R-176 ski lift (L’Étoile Filante), the RBQ requires MSA to obtain an expert’s report aimed at explaining the malfunction of the equipment and to apply the recommendations of this report, in addition to obtaining a security certificate signed by an engineer,” the agency wrote. “As for the resort’s other ski lifts that have detachable grips…the RBQ orders, among other things, to carry out the verification of the moving parts on all the grips and to obtain a safety certificate signed by an engineer.” Finally, the watchdog requires that Mont-Sainte-Anne submit a training plan to ensure that personnel know, understand and properly apply operating procedures.

Mont-Sainte-Anne’s most recent statement on the incident came yesterday, before the government’s order. “The operation and maintenance of ski lifts are governed by laws and standards that we must respect,” said Maxime Cretin, Vice President and General Manager for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Eastern Region. “Constant monitoring of the operation and a detailed maintenance log are required for all our lifts. User safety is a priority for our teams. We continue to offer our cooperation to the competent authorities who will continue their inspections a the beginning of the next week. For the moment, no hypothesis has been ruled out from the ongoing investigation into the gondola,” he said.

The RBQ noted that it does not take revocation of operating permits lightly but that last Saturday’s event could have been fatal. “Ski resort operators are primarily responsible for the safety of their customers,” commented Stephane Petit, Vice President of Client Relations and Operations at the Quebec Building Authority. “Our priority remains public safety. The reopening of the ski lifts will depend on the pace of fulfillment of the requirements set out in the ordinance by Mont-Sainte-Anne.”

Update: Mont-Sainte-Anne issued another statement tonight, 12/16:

“We were informed of the Order from the Building Authority that was issued to us at the end of the afternoon today. We will make every effort to implement the requested requirements and honor the trust of our customers. A review of procedures and training was already scheduled this weekend and additional inspections were also planned for the resumption of operations. Awaiting the final findings of the investigations, we are working on a safe plan to restore activities.

Cabin Falls from Mont-Sainte-Anne Gondola

Photo credit: Jean-Francois Racine

For the third time in three years the gondola L’Étoile Filante at Mont-Sainte-Anne is shuttered due to an incident. This time no one was injured when an empty down bound cabin detached and fell from the haul rope before the mountain opened for the day. A tower safety system stopped the lift automatically and workers arrived to find the cabin on the ground. The mountain has been closed for at least the weekend while the incident is investigated.

“We continue to verify the entire lift and secure the site, read a statement from the resort. “A full inspection procedure was initiated to verify and validate the causes of the event. The teams of the lift manufacturer as well as the competent authorities were called upon to assist our teams in the inspection of the gondola.”

Mont-Sainte-Anne owner Resorts of the Canadian Rockies noted what happened today is not related to a February 2020 incident which sent a dozen people to the hospital or a March 2020 one which injured another person. The gondola was closed for a year after those accidents and underwent $1.5 million in upgrades before reopening in March 2021. Still, the Doppelmayr-built system is 33 years old and RCR has received criticism for lack of investment across its six ski areas. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s lift fleet averages 35 years old with three detachables dating back to the 1980s. Earlier this year, the well-capitalized Groupe Le Massif offered to buy Resorts of the Canadian Rockies’ two eastern resorts, an offer which RCR declined.

For now Mont-Sainte-Anne passholders can ski at nearby sister resort Stoneham. Mont-Sainte-Anne plans to shift snowmaking efforts to the south side of the mountain not serviced by the gondola and will update guests when it can reopen.

No Injuries Reported in Cypress Mountain Tower Flying Incident

A helicopter pilot was forced to release a tower head bound for Cypress Mountain’s new chairlift Friday when weather conditions became unfavorable. The Sikorsky S-61 helicopter landed safely but the uppermost section of tower 6 was damaged beyond repair. “A fog bank moved quickly and unexpectedly into the work zone as the assembly was being set,” read a statement from the resort. “During the helicopter’s exit from the fog – as required by safety protocols – the load was jettisoned to allow the helicopter to safely reposition to an area with greater visibility, then navigate back to and land at the base area,” the statement continued. The helicopter was being operated by VIH Aviation Group of North Saanich, British Columbia and had been hired by Doppelmayr Canada to install towers at Cypress. Work was temporarily suspended after the incident and Worksafe BC as well as aviation authorities are investigating.

“Safety protocols were strictly followed, and the critical and fortunate outcome is that no one was injured,” said Russell Chamberlain, president and general manager of Cypress Mountain. “We expect this incident will alter the schedule, but not in a way that causes an actual setback in timing.” Doppelmayr is working to replace damaged components at factories in Salt Lake City, Utah and St.-Jérôme, Quebec.

The SkyQuad is replacing a 1968 Mueller double on the upper mountain. Cypress said that despite the setback, Doppelmayr expects to have the new lift operational as planned in mid-December.

Fire Damages Plattekill Mountain Chairlift

A lightning strike is believed to have started a lift shack fire at New York’s Plattekill Mountain Tuesday afternoon. The local fire department responded within 10 minutes and stopped flames from spreading to the double chair‘s drive terminal. “A special thanks to our first neighbor just below the mountain who saw the fire and called it in, and the swift response of the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department they were able to save our base terminal and ensure that we shall ride again this winter,” the mountain wrote on social media.

The Hall double was installed at Plattekill in 2002 but originated at nearby Belleayre in 1977. Fiercely independent Plattekill normally runs the lift in the summer for weddings but has already made plans to switch scheduled events to its other chairlift. “Efforts are already underway scouring the supply chain to source parts and rebuild,” the ski area said, noting the shack housed the lift’s DC drive and controls. Other resorts and a local lumber company have already offered to help. Specifics on what parts are needed can be found here. “The outpouring of support from friends and other ski areas is overwhelming and reminds us what is so amazing about our industry,” Plattekill said.