Annual Gentle Reminder for Chairlift Safety

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).

A Thought to Safety as Ski Season Nears

As the ski season approaches my “Mommy worry” kicks in hopeful that no family will have to experience what we did almost five years ago when our then eight-year-old fell 32 feet off of a chairlift. Because of the accident we are now strong advocates for ski safety and saving lives through blood donation- issues that are dear and near to our hearts.

At this time every year I have posted about ski lift accidents that occurred in prior seasons. This is depressing to me. So instead I will focus on the positive for the upcoming season- increased education of slope safety.

The NSAA‘s “Kids on Lifts” policy is a wonderful start to share with friends and family. I would add no loose clothing, hold on, and use the safety bar (if available). It would be a wonderful thing if the safety bar were always an option to use or not to use per preference of the ski patron- preferably bars designed with both little and big bodies in mind like Mammoth Mountain‘s retrofitted bars.

Have a wonderful ski season! Our family can’t wait. Let it SNOW!

NSAA's Kids on Lifts Poster

NSAA’s Kids on Lifts Poster

Know the Zone

Recently our family had the chance to assist Mammoth Mountain with their educational video “Know the Zone.”  It was such a fun opportunity in furthering our family goal to promote safety at ski resorts.  You can check it out on YouTube by clicking here.

It is also the NSAA‘s safety month.  Be sure to check out your local resort to see the fun activities they have planned in promotion of safety education on the slopes.

No Little Girl Braver

Back at Snow Valley

 

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.

 

 

How Do Your Kids Sit On A Chairlift?

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…

How Do Your Kids Hold On?

How Do Your Kids Hold On?

What is this chairlift mantra?

  • Back to Back
  • Hold On
  • Sit Still
  • [And Use the Restraint Bar if Available]

Compassion & Education

Gallery

This gallery contains 3 photos.

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

Proper Loading

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 riding up solo.

Cami "scooting" back.  The only thing she could scoot back when I yelled at her to do so was her head.

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.

Kids On Lifts

Yesterday I found the NSAA’s new website www.kidsonlifts.org.  The educational push of proper chair lift use has started, and we are thrilled.

“Kids On Lifts” is a very cool site with kid friendly videos and safety pointers.  Through e-mail exchange with Bob Roberts, President of the California Ski Industry Association, and Emily Griffith, Director of Member Services for the National Ski Areas Association, I learned that discussion of proper ski lift use was long in the works. This particular initiative, “Kids On Lifts”, began in the Spring of 2012.

The website repeatedly instructs that young passengers sit all the way back on the chairseat, or “back to back.”  The riders should never lean forward or rest on the restraint bar. Further that because young ski school students will often ride with another student (or solo- my observation) instead of an instructor or an adult, it is absolutely critical that parents discuss chair lift responsibility with their children.

The “Kids On Lifts” website is a good starting point to initiate discussion of chair lift safety with your child.  I suggest that you also have a conversation with the Ski School Supervisors, Instructors and Lift Operators to ensure the proper teaching of loading and riding techniques.  The professionals that teach our children the ski skills to get them down the hill should also assist the parents in teaching the kids how to safely get up the hill.

 The Kids On Lifts Logo is downloadable here.

Family Ski Trip

Our family decided to venture outside of California and introduce the kids to resorts in Colorado and New Mexico over the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was a fun family road trip with an overnight stay at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ (who wouldn’t want to sleep in a teepee!) and listening to audiobooks.  Our destination was La Veta, CO to visit with family.

We prepared for our trip excitedly.  We even bought the kids their first skis and boots versus renting- early Christmas presents!  Gearonimo Sports Equipment out of Colorado Springs provides wonderful deals and shipping is immediate.  They were extremely helpful in exchange of equipment, too!

Our skiing was dependent on opening dates set by nearby resorts.  Our first stop?  Wolf Creek.  We learned that this resort reports the most snowfall in all of Colorado! The early season rates were much appreciated as was the fact it was OPEN before Thanksgiving!  Wolf Creek is a locals’ ski hill- all ski and no touristy ski town to entertain.  Parking is conveniently located right next to the lift ticket office.  We found the staff friendly and helpful and learned that obstacles are not marked on the runs so knew to pay attention to the rocks and tops of trees still poking through the early season snow.  We were happy to find that every lift taken had a safety or comfort bar, too!

We had a wonderful day learning the terrain of Wolf Creek.  Happily, a large amount of runs were available to choose from so early in the season.  We witnessed “snow farming” along sheets of plastic resulting in awesome water-like waves of snow from one site to another. Cami (age 4) and Luke (age 8) had a wonderful experience in Wolf Pup Ski School. Luke advanced right out of his age group into the “Hot Shots!”  Cami retained her ski skills gained in last year’s Mammoth Ski School and was up on the lift and skiing down with her class, too.  The Wolf Creek staff eagerly made each child’s experience a wonderful one.  I liked that the school had their own “lodge” right on the slopes for provision of a hot lunch and hot cocoa.  Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Wolf Creek and look forward to someday getting back there.

Our next adventure was skiing the slopes of Red River, NM which opened the day before Thanksgiving.  We were excited to experience this resort as my grandmother, Dorothy Miller DuLaney, had skied it on homemade skis in the 30s and cousins grew up on the slopes here.  (Cousin Ellen Goins and husband Geoff are the proud owners of nearby Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area.)

My grandmother skiing Red River, NM!

Though extremely limited in the runs available early season the groomed snow offered by Red River was very nice (and being early season the rates were discounted!).  We could see from the trail map that this mountain’s full-season offering is amazing.  And you just can’t beat the convenience the town has to offer to the resort- most lodging is walking distance or a jump on a free shuttle, many restaurants and choices of entertainment to choose from, and conveniently located near Taos Ski ValleyAngel Fire, and  Enchanted Forest Cross Country to provide for a complete family ski adventure.  The townspeople are the best, and you can’t find friendlier people than those at The Starr, a kid friendly store in town.

We all loved Red River skiing.  The ski school is conveniently located right on the “magic carpet” slope, Little Blue, and next to the parking lot.  We all got to try the magic carpet as it also offers a convenient way to get to the Gold Chair and Gold Rush.  Cami had a blast skiing with instructor “Kitty Kat,” who made sure she loaded that chair correctly. There are no safety bars on Gold Chair, but restraint bars are on Platinum Chair which allows you to ski down The Face.  Keely and Luke are thrilled to proclaim that they’ve now skied “The Face” of Red River.  Red River ski area is a wonderful family resort offering a variety of runs, torch-light parades, snow coach dinner tours, secret family places to find on the slopes such as a ski-thru mining camp replica, and an extremely convenient town within walking distance to the slopes.

The Proctor kids skiing Red River-4th Generation to do so! Photo credit to Southern Exposure, Inc.

We look forward to more family ski adventures this season!

My next post will be an opinion piece about loading of children on lifts with bars…