Parents of boy injured in lift fall want ski area policies changed |

Parents of boy injured in lift fall want ski area policies changed

SUMMIT COUNTY – Paula Novak is having trouble sleeping. Every time she closes her eyes, she sees her son falling 40 feet from a ski lift to the ground below.

“I see those little yellow skis he was wearing,” she said. “I picture him slipping out. I picture the look on his face as he was falling.”

She imagines the scene, even though she didn’t actually witness 6-year-old Weston’s fall from the Peru Express lift at Keystone Sunday. She was skiing elsewhere at the resort, and he was learning to ski in a Keystone Ski School class.

Keystone Resort spokesman Mike Lee wouldn’t comment on the incident, but Novak says her son was riding the lift with a ski school instructor and two other students. The Novaks are from Denver, but Weston had never been on skis until Sunday. He had never ridden a lift until last weekend, his parents said.

As the lift neared the terminal, the instructor lifted the bar, which caught Weston’s ski and “flipped him” off the lift, his parents say. Weston – who was wearing a helmet – hung upside down for a second until his binding released and he fell, they said.

“He has eight different breaks in both arms,” his mother said. “His spleen was torn nearly in half. His liver was lacerated. There’s damage to the growth plate in one of his wrists.”

Resort workers tracked Novak down through the phone numbers she’d left with the ski school, but by the time she arrived at Keystone’s base area medical center, the Flight For Life helicopter was airborne, taking Weston to Children’s Hospital in Denver.

“The doctor told me he was screaming for me the whole time,” Paula Novak said.

Scott and Paula Novak, who have spent the past few days sitting beside their son’s bed at Children’s Hospital, say they’re concentrating on getting their son well. But they’re also thinking ahead, hoping they can prevent another family from suffering a similar trauma.

The Novaks believe ski areas could make some changes to decrease the likelihood of children falling off ski lifts. In fact, Paula Novak thinks it’s God’s intention they make some good come out of their experience.

She and her husband think ski lifts don’t slow down enough to give inexperienced skiers sufficient time to unload. They also want to see each ski instructor accompany no more than two children on a lift. The Novaks don’t believe Weston’s ski instructor could possibly have kept an eye on all three of her charges.

“This is a multi-billion-dollar industry,” Paula Novak said. “They should be able to employ enough people to put these children on the hill safely.

“I’m not a congressman. I’m just a parent. But it seems to me it would be fairly simple to change these rules.”

But ski area representatives don’t think such changes are warranted.

“This isn’t a very common occurrence,” said Sid Roslund, director of technical services for the National Ski Areas Association. In cases like Weston Novak’s, “we look at what has happened to see if there is something we can do.”

Roslund pointed out that the increasingly common detachable lifts – like the Peru Express Weston was riding – drop “to a very low speed compared to fixed-grip lifts.”

Additionally, parents who enroll their children in ski school sign releases that essentially absolve the ski areas from liability in case of such accidents. Young skiers are subject to the Skier Safety Act, which applies to all lift ticket holders.

The act, which became law in 1979, warns skiers that they assume “the risk of any injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing and may not recover from any ski area operator for any injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” It also alerts skiers not to board a lift “unless you feel confident that you have sufficient physical dexterity, ability and knowledge to use the lift safely.”

Representatives of the Colorado Passenger Tramway Board, a group that regulates ski lifts, said they could not comment on the Novaks’ concerns but needed questions submitted in writing that would be submitted to the group’s directors and answered later.

John Mauch, chair of the American National Standard B77 committee, which sets safety requirements for tramways, said he could not comment on the Novaks’ concerns because he is director of lifts at Breckenridge and Keystone.

Representatives of Colorado Ski Country USA did not return calls requesting comment.

And attorney Jim Chalat, who represents petitioners in ski-related litigation, said he couldn’t comment because he has already spoken with the Novaks about their son’s accident.

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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