Ski Lift Education Is Necessary

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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.

How do you safely sit on a chairlift?

Back to Back

Hold On

Sit Still

Use the Restraint Bar if Provided

2013 Ski Lift Image

A Reminder of Safe Chairlift Riding

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2013 Chairlift photo

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.

Back to Back

Hold On

Sit Still

[And Use the Restraint Bar If Available)

 

Retrofitted Ski Lift Restraint Bar

Restraint with Vertical Bars

 

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.

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]

The Day The Accident Occurred & The Basis of Our Passion for Chairlift Safety

NBC News LA interviewed us last week about Keely’s fall and ski safety in general.  After the interview Craig and I talked about skipeace.com and came to the conclusion it is lacking in sharing the basis of our passion though does a fair job of defining a timeline of our efforts.  I’m not sure how the news story will be edited as it has yet to air, but we feel that our site should share the emotion of what it is like to experience your child injured from a chairlift fall and why we hope no one ever has to experience the six weeks we did afterwards.  The following, in part, was given in a November 2010 speech to the Loma Linda Desert Guild thanking them for raising funds for the Children’s Hospital Transport Unit, waiting areas and provision of books to hospitalized children. They are among many angels to our family as their efforts contributed to the saving of our daughter.

I’d like to present Keely’s story to you; our miracle girl. I share this for understanding our passion behind chairlift safety.

BACKGROUND

This day started out so wonderfully.  We are a skiing family.  Our kids have skied since they were babies between their dad’s legs or strapped to the Bjorn on his chest.  On April 3, 2010 we headed up to the local mountains for a quick few runs before Keely’s softball game that afternoon and our trek to Santa Barbara for Easter the next day.  Besides the baby, Cami, getting carsick on the way up the morning could not have been more perfect- skiing with good friends in warm weather.  We even had Cami out on the slopes in the Bjorn until advised that skiing practice was not allowed.

Having conquered Mammoth’s Cornice, an expert run, the week before Craig and I were completely confident in Keely’s skills.  As stated she grew up on the slopes- attending the Rim Youth ski program since she was in kindergarten as well as Mammoth all day ski instruction whenever we were out that way.  Skiing is a wonderful family sport for us so, again, we had no qualms in Keely’s skills.

After a few runs, I went with Cami to the lodge to relax for the hour or so until being joined by the others for lunch.  I had just discovered that the lodge makes some of the best cinnamon rolls around and couldn’t wait to share this with them.

LIFE-CHANGING

It was 11am when our lives changed.  A lady with the Mountain came in determinedly looked at me and asked in a crowded room if I had an 8-year-old daughter skiing with her dad.  I said, yes.  She then stated, you need to come with me NOW your daughter has fallen off the chairlift.  Shocked, numb, I asked where my five-year old son was and was told he was being led down the mountain and my husband was following Keely in the toboggan. I needed to get to the Medic Station fast.  I really really hoped she had only fallen 10 feet and broke a leg.  And, really, fallen off a lift???

As we dashed across the parking lot the radio chimed in that they were providing oxygen.  I then grew concerned and asked if that was for Keely.  She attempted to maintain my anxiety and said let’s just go meet her.  Carrying Cami we enter the Medic Hut, no Keely in sight.  It’s concrete floors and doors open to the slopes waiting for her arrival…  waiting and waiting.  And she arrives with 2 or 3 Ski Patrolmen with her and on top of her.  I yell to her that I’m there and it’s all going to be OK.  She’s now on a bed looking at me with big eyes- not crying nor ever did she cry that day or lose consciousness.  Just fervently repeating MY BELLY HURTS and her big eyes looking at me.  I looked at her and asked, “You fell off a chairlift?” trying to make light of the situation.  But she looked at me confused as if she couldn’t recall.  There were a lot of people around her getting figures/info, stats.  They said things like 2/3 recall she can’t recall the day.

My husband skis in and looks at me barely holding up and shrugs his shoulders.  He had been frantically looking for me in the lodge unaware I was already here.  He said it was the last run before lunch.  He let Keely decide to go up on the chair with him and our son Luke, or with her friend and her father.  She chose to go up with her friend.  Craig and Luke were two chairs in front.  Our friend got off the chair and yelled to Craig Keely fell- the seriousness didn’t register with Craig as he raced after telling our son Luke to follow.  Luke being 5 skied right behind Daddy.

Keely slipped and fell 32 feet off the chair.  In this one second of time that changed our lives angels were definitely watching over us.

MEDICAL CARE

On the slopes Craig and our friend who had been on the chair with Keely made the decision to send Keely to Loma Linda.  You see, we were lucky in that our friend is a PICU doctor.  We were also lucky in that the place where Keely fell was quite near a ski patrol hut on the mountain and they heard the impact and immediately went to her along with my husband.  It was on the slopes the decision was made by the very professional and efficient mountain patrol that a helicopter was necessary to save my daughter’s life.

We were then told that Keely would be going alone in the ambulance as the protocol is usually that no other passengers are allowed on the helicopter.

The ambulance arrived, we said our good-byes to our little girl- hoping that all would be fine.  I think it took the ambulance 20 minutes to meet up with the county sheriff’s volunteer helicopter.  They picked her up on Hwy 330 closed to traffic for road repairs. We had to make the long trek down the 18 adding 45 minutes to a normal route down.  This helicopter crew skilled and competent to land on a sloping, blustery  mountain highway with nearby powerlines…Days later I heard from the helicopter pilot, who coincidentally was the parent of one of Keely’s best preschool friends, that this flight took 7 minutes and he had no idea he transported Keely until I sent an email out to friends for prayers.  This shook him to the core.

So as Keely is flying to Loma Linda and in fact in the Emergency Room of Loma Linda it took us 1 ½ hours to get to her.  Never did I worry about the facility she was at or the care she would receive.  For 1 ½ hours our daughter was in the hands of compassionate strangers.

But wouldn’t you know this would be the one day I did not have my cell phone.  Between curves around the mountain and waiting for reception I made calls on Craig’s cell trying to reach a fellow parent from the kids’ school- the dad who happened to work in the Pediatric ER.  And keep in mind this is the Saturday before Easter… he was off-duty but available.  He immediately went to Keely.

We arrived and ran through the ER parking lot to a voice that said, “Proctor Family took you long enough!”  It was our dear friend from the kids’ school.  He ushered us through past the desk.

And bear in mind most of this is a blur- and I’m still being optimistic.  The family room was full with another family so we went to a residents’ lounge and waited to see our daughter.  Finally we were led to her- it seemed she had any and all doctors and nurses working on her, and she was still awake.  She saw us and then there was talk of intubation and lots of fast movement and we wanted to stay but were told it’s best if we left.  We were going to do whatever was necessary.  And we waited in the lounge behind the ER- the place my husband commented they send people for bad news.  Lots of papers to be signed- I kept asking if it was all necessary the possible surgical procedures, still not knowing the full extent of exactly what was wrong (broken rib??- see still optimistic).  Our friend said, Terri, do you trust they are going to do whatever is necessary to save Keely’s life?  Of course- it was then it dawned on me how injured our Keely was- especially after the trauma surgeon came in to say they were taking her to exploratory surgery and said “should she leave the hospital.”

We waited and waited for the surgery to be done.  Keely’s body temperature dropped too low to determine the full extent of her injuries- she was bleeding to death from massive internal injuries.  She was packed in hopes to stem the bleeding to get back in and resolve the situation.  We were hopeful as we were led to PICU- where she was going to wait pending that next fulfilling surgery.  By this time, Craig’s family had arrived- his brother an orthopedic surgeon waiting with us, his other brother a urologist in Atlanta on the phone with the doctors.

We were ushered to the Family Consult Room.  It was nice and peaceful and large enough to hold our entire extended family.  I’m still hopeful this is an easy fix.  I believe it was Craig that commented again that he doesn’t want to be led to anymore “bad news” rooms.  The peacefulness I felt turned to anxiety- to be sitting in the “Consult” room in the PICU wing is not a good thing.  A fellow came in to talk to us about plans…  he said she was going through a unit of blood every 15 minutes.  Optimism waning I asked how much blood can be given to a person as she had already been given 12 red blood cell units and 20+ total blood products.  She, in fact, had her own courier service from the blood bank delivering blood that was rushingly being heated up to give to her cold body.  Craig’s brother took the young doctor to the hallway and yelled at him:  you must try and save her; if she’s going to bleed out let it be on the operating table.  We were allowed to see her…  I am told she was the sickest of the sick little children in the hospital at that point.  She had every available nurse, etc., watching her to keep our little Keely alive.  Keely saw us, tried to reach for us, and then she was drugged again.

Unbeknownst to us the wonderful and in our opinions saintly trauma surgeon had been talking with the PICU doctors as well as our friend who had been on the slopes with us.  They came up with a clotting agent that is used on battle lines to get the blood to clot but only lasts for 30 minutes or so- should it work all must be ready to act fast.  The clotting agent worked and Keely was whisked off to surgery to embolize the arterial bleeds in her damaged liver and perhaps remove the shattered right kidney.  There’s another doctor who is a saint in our books:  the radiologist that directed the coils through her tiny arterial liver veins to get that blood to stop flowing.

We sat in that “Consult Room” for this procedure as friends slowly stopped by to offer support.  Craig and I were in the hallway when we saw Keely transported right by us to Room 1- equipment and medic personnel following her.  What a wonderful sight.

During our stay on the PICU floor we were visited by many who cared for Keely in the ER before our arrival at the hospital.  The transport team first in charge of her were so very compassionate talking of all of the units of blood Keely needed, the ER team nurses and student doctors also stopped by grateful this little girl had lived- we were even told that she very likely would not have lived another few minutes but for the speed the helicopter crew got her there.

All in all we spent 10 out of 21 hospitalized days in a PICU room, watching Keely on life support as the PICU team kept her alive and the surgeons cleaned her up through 5 surgeries in 7 days.  Some of that time was spent in the 5th floor waiting room.  A place right in the hustle and bustle but somehow providing a sense of quiet- a place that allowed us to carry on a bit as normal as we received friends and family, slept or watched the Lakers during surgical procedures.  This 5th floor waiting room allowed a bit of normalcy during an extremely stressful time. We credit ourselves with perhaps earning the credential of LVNs as we learned the beeps/numbers/proper color of fluids and how to suction her nose.  As a side note you can choose no better wing of nurses to support than the bunch that work there.

Craig took on the evening shifts and I took on the day shifts. Transport teams were often needed to get Keely to and from tests/surgeries:  for a parent this agonizing wait for a team to be available or the equipment to be available to get your child to where they desperately need to go to in order to live…

One happy moment for Keely in the hospital, per her recollection- when she was able to leave her room, and head to the lobby in her wheelchair, to take part in the Spring Read party and choose her own books to take back to her room.  She was able to sit at a table for 5-10 minutes without hearing the constant beeps of her equipment or of the equipment of the nurses’ stations, beeps from the towers of her roommates  or those of rooms around her.  For 5-10 minutes she was in charge of what she wanted- choose her own book in the lobby where she could see the aquariums and the outside.

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

National Safety Week Starts Jan. 19th

Safety-LOGO_ORANGE-295x300Our 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)

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.