It’s been quite a while since we’ve last posted. Almost 7 years after Keely’s chairlift accident it’s still very hard to enter new seasons anticipating reports of falls from ski lifts.
My goal is to only report positive stories- especially since Keely is so very much living life to the fullest thanks to first responders and blood donors back in 2010.
The unfortunate thing is that these accidents will continue as long as chairs don’t have restraint bars, or even if they do patrons don’t utilize those bars; for as long as users are squirrely or distracted (though a bar would be an awesome deterrent); for as long as one size fits all benches are used where the little ones sit with their heavy equipment dangling off of their feet (which of course, is where the pronged bars are amazing); for as long as riders have dangling strings/straps that get caught on disembarkment… really, we could come up with a lot of what ifs… and yes, most of it is human error because thank God and thanks to those amazing and hardworking ski resort employees mechanical errors rarely occur (thus the oft-repeated phrase you’ll hear that chairlifts are safer than elevators- and then from this we could discuss how you could make numbers say anything).
That human error is going to occur we can predict.
And, here I can hear what we’ve heard over the years: the nature of Darwinism weeding out the stupid; it’s the parents’ fault; the sport is meant to be unrestricted allowing for complete freedom and independence; the sport is inherently dangerous and risky.
But… what if we could prevent the severe consequences of this predicted human error, because it IS going to occur. What if we could prevent that one family from losing their loved one? What if we could save lives? I argue that simple design changes are needed- adding bars to all lifts that effectively prevent slipping off of the bench. I don’t really care if we mandate the use of the bars…. if people want to ride up without using them then best wishes. In addition to design changes, education is key.
So my happy story: The ski industry affirmatively educates patrons on proper chairlift use. I can personally attest how some resorts proactively seek out better ideas/ways to make the chair safe for all ages. I’d like to share today’s Good Morning America ski lift safety video as our annual reminder of how to properly sit on the lift (please look at our past posts for more detail).
Now that safety bars are showing up on local beginner runs how do you educate properly on when to raise the bar to disembark? We spotted this cool light at Mammoth recently and wanted to share! Watch it turn from red to green indicating when to raise the chairlift bar.
January 1, 2014, the start of a New Year and our return to ski Snow Valley. This journey almost four years in the making. If it were up to us, her parents, we never would’ve returned- just too hard. But Keely couldn’t wait and with ski club starting up in two weeks we headed up again as a family to re-introduce ourselves to the place we cherished and will continue to hold close.
Keely was ready to return last year. We had excuses with ski passes elsewhere, too busy, wondering about those chairs, and worry. This year we had no excuse. Keely signed up for her school ski club (new to her as a new middle schooler) and the venue will be the place where the accident occurred. We waited until we could wait no more and headed up to enjoy a wonderful sunny Southern California day of skiing.
Memories of what happened on April 3, 2010 flooded back on that car ride up. It was a different route as HWY 330 was open, unlike last time. We imagined where the helicopter might have picked her up to take her to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital- this county sheriff’s helicopter that met her on the then closed highway to whisk her alone with medical personnel. We passed familiar places like Blauer’s where we always rented the kids’ season rentals to use during the Rim Youth Ski Program. And then the flags standing tall in front of the resort parking lot greeted us as they waved in the wind. An old familiar sight rose before us and though Mother Nature hasn’t helped much with snow there was plenty to enjoy a morning of skiing.
Craig skied with Keely alone on the first runs. The other two kids and I waited at the lodge playing in the snow and revisiting the areas I was familiar with when entertaining my babies while my older children, Keely and then Keely and Luke, skied with Grandpa and Dad. As Craig and Keely loaded the lift I watched as it slightly swung steadying in action as it transported them up the hill. Though recently bars have been placed on the beginner lifts no bars were on this lift. And up they went.
As at the base of the hill asking about our favorite ski patroller Donna, Craig and Keely asked mid-mountain if she had been spotted. At that moment they saw her skiing down, and she joined them on the momentous occasion of that first ride up the chair from which Keely slipped 32 feet.
And we are back. Life is not the same, but I guess that’s life. It is because life is short and meant to be enjoyed to its fullest we are back to the place that touched and changed our lives. It is because of Keely we are back.
One day I would like to not write of ski lift safety. I know at some point chairs will safely account for all body types large and small transported up the hill. In fact as each new season approaches I would rather not write about ski lifts given the memories of 2010 when our daughter fought for her life after slipping 32 feet off of a chairlift. (See About Us) However, each season the media reports on those that HAVE fallen off of the lift, and these news reports remind us that ski lift education from resorts, parents and friends is necessary.
In the 2012-2013 ski season I found six instances of media reports about falls from ski lifts. These reports do not account for the many that go unreported. These ski lift falls included that of a teen in December 2012 in Pennsylvania. Ski lift falls in January 2013 included that of two brothers ages four and seven in New Hampshire, a seven-year-old in New York, and a nine-year-old in Utah. Media reports in February of 2013 told of the ski lift fall of a teen in New Mexico and the fatal ski lift fall of a schoolgirl in Italy.
In what I hope will be the only reported instance of a ski lift fall this year, the 2013-2014 ski season began with the report of a mother and six-year-old daughter falling from a lift in New Hampshire.
Riding? Perhaps that makes it sound a bit too carefree- the utilization of the ski lift as a means to get up the hill. As the 2013-2014 ski season is underway a gentle reminder on how to properly sit on the chairlift. A reminder we feel compelled to post having had a child slip 32 feet off of a chair. We hope it assists in the keeping safe of children (and adults) at resorts each season.
We were recently at Mammoth Mountain having family fun in the late Spring Ski season. The kids excitedly used a new ski lift restraint bar in place. This restraint has vertical bars placed between the legs and is lightweight and easy for the kids to use.
Our desire is that similar chairlift restraints would exist on all lifts at any resort to use or not to use by the patron. Ask your local mountain operations director why they don’t have similar lift restraints installed. Communication is the key. I’ll have another post with bullet points to assist in discussion of the need for restraint bars. (This sentence is silly, isn’t it? Of course, it’s logical! But I’ll post about it anyway.)
And if you feel funny calling it a restraint bar, retention bar, safety bar or comfort bar… feel free to call it the K-Bar. That’s what our family calls it in honor of Keely.
There are times when our older children ride lifts by themselves. This usually occurs when we are skiing with the preschooler, no other adult is available and it’s a two person chair. We go over the chairlift mantra prior to loading and off they go…
I meant to write earlier about our time at Mammoth‘s National Safety Week Kick-Off. It was an amazing experience and one that brought tears to our family. In just a year’s discussion with the California Ski Industry Association we have seen … Continue reading →
Our family looks forward to activities in honor of National Safety Awareness Week this weekend promoted by the NSAA. I look forward to sharing with you what we learn and experience! In a quick glance of activities at various resorts my favorite find was the following at Northstar at Tahoe:
Bars Down for Bars January 19-21 & January 25-27; Top of Zephyr Lift
Lucky guests caught riding up the chair with the bar down may win candy bars given out by our Lift Operators
(while supplies last)
Having had a child fall off of a lift you’d expect us to be hypervigilant about our kids loading lifts now, right? The topic of proper sitting on ski lifts is a repeated one in our household. I hope it is so with most ski families. From personal experience prior to the accident I know that’s not the case. We talk of proper ski etiquette and form down the hill, but I think we assume sitting is sitting and what is there to talk of that and chairlifts?
Having my eyes “wide open” now I can’t help but stare at children as they sit on lifts and see how those children slump, wiggle, drop things and lean over with their big heads to follow those dropped objects, or bring their skis up so they can scrape the snow and eat it. They’re children and will act as such, and now I act like the crazed parent cautioning these children on proper behavior when on the lifts. I would hope other adults would do the same when observing my own kids should the need ever arise.
And, yes, children are riding lifts up alone- especially in ski school situations. I would lie if I said I was completely fine with that. I’d feel better if that lift also included a safety bar. Just teach them how to ride properly. The children are learning how to ski and doing such they should also be learning how to go up the hill. Also, please lift those little children up and place them down on the chair “back to back” because it’s just too difficult for them to do this themselves with the weight of their skis and their short legs.
I am optimistic that the ski instructors and lift loaders are cautioning children on lift procedures (and sitting protocol). From observation I know this isn’t always the case. Especially when safety/restraint/comfort bars are in use. And here’s an unintended consequence… the use of safety bars and children draping themselves over those bars and riding up on the edge of that seat. One of those children is my littlest who lives in a household that discusses how to ride those ski lifts before we head up the hill. Despite frequent conversations she is too young to think about certain consequences (see below pictures). Children will be children so it is up to the adults involved to “be the adults” and protect them. Help kids load properly (or design a restraint that doesn’t beckon children to the front of the chair but sits in their laps).
Cami riding up solo.
Cami “scooting” back. When I yelled at her to scoot back the only thing she could scoot back was her head.
Here I emphasize again: teach children to properly sit on a chairlift when they are young so it is ingrained. Do not use the safety bar as a play bar nor as a false sense that a fall will not occur. I don’t understand the belief that if the kids drape themselves off of the bar they have a lesser chance of falling from scooting forward to disembark since they are already forward. Our children should learn how to properly perform the “entire” sport of skiing. That they are sitting on the edge of the seat to me means they are that much closer to slipping under the bar that is to act as a deterrent from falling forward (see Keely’s Science Project for a rudimentary idea).
What is that proper behavior on a ski lift? The “Kids on Lifts” site is an excellent starting point for this discussion. I encourage you to stress to the ski school instructors and lift operators that they follow the NSAA suggestions found on the Kids on Lifts website.