Tips for the Trails: Chancy Chairlifts
January 18, 2017
Filed under Columns
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For young skiers, chairlifts are the rumbling monsters that feed off fear and inexperience, constantly sleeping at the bottom of the mountain. I remember being a ‘pizza stop prone’ rookie struggling onto the lift with my mother at my side. The nightmare didn’t end at the boarding ramp either. Once soaring about the ski runs, my heart thrummed in my chest as I glared down at missing mittens and ski poles that had individually leapt from their owner’s loose hands. However, nothing compared to the icy idea of sliding of the chairlift and falling to my doom in the thick powder below or being stuck, frozen to the metallic bar for hours on end.
As I grew older, the childish distress of the lift diminished. Like most skiers, I slide onto the lift with ease. I check my phone, chat with my friends and family, and sometimes even take a small nap. Overall, it’s not an eventful trip and I rarely put the bar down. When you’ve been skiing or boarding for all of your life, you become accustomed to riding above the rocky trails below, and the word chairlift only strikes boredom in your brain.
But in late December 2016, a mother and her two daughters were relaxing on a chairlift at Ski Granby Ranch, a small local resort. Now, if you’ve witnessed Granby Ranch, you’d know it’s not a large, prominent resort. It has a few simple runs, but makes for a fun, exploratory day trip (or night trip as night skiing is offered) that rests on thirty minutes away from Winter Park, CO. Unfortunately, the mother and her two kids fell from the lift. The children were left hospitalized and the mother, sadly, passed away at the mountain. This is not the first story I’ve heard about lives jeopardized by chairlifts. When I was in elementary school, my year younger neighbor and closest friend slipped over the protective bar at a chairlift in Vail after attempting to spit down on the riders below. (Talk about karma). She was lucky to survive, making it out with broken ribs, broken arms, broken legs and a slightly damaged confidence. She’s healed today with no long term effects, but still, it nevertheless raises the primary question: Are chairlifts really safe?
If you think about it in depth, chairlifts are horribly unsafe. When riding a lift, one goes high above the ground. While the sights are often stunning, they can be distracting. People may drop their guard, causing them to lurch forward at a bump. The largest concern is certainly the safety bar. They are optional, while compared to a rollercoaster, restraints are extremely required.
But, let’s think about this for a moment. NSAA quotes, “In short, a person is 3 times more likely to suffer a fatality riding an elevator than a ski lift, and 9 times more likely to suffer a fatality in a car than on a ski lift.” It’s very rare for a human to tumble off a ski lift and millions of people are transported safely every year. The key is being careful you see, especially with antsy young kids.
In conclusion, do you need to be worried about ski lifts? Not really. Be weary, hold on, and don’t do stupid things while suspended in the air. It’s truly common sense that will keep you safe, because the resorts are very cautious about keeping the lifts in prime, safe condition. So take a deep breath and worry about the wait times instead.