Vail Resorts settles with family of New Jersey man who died in Colorado chairlift accident

The children of Jason Varnish sued after his jacket became entangled on a chairlift with a raised seat and died of positional asphyxiation in 2020.

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
A skier traverses a run at Vail Mountain on December 18, 2019.
Andy Colwell/Special to the Colorado Sun

The family of a man who died in February 2020 after becoming entangled in a Vail ski area chairlift with a raised seat has settled its wrongful death lawsuit with Vail Resorts. 

Jason Varnish was boarding the Blue Sky chairlift on Feb. 13, 2020, when the chair came around with its seat not lowered. His buddy was knocked away from the chairlift but Varnish’s jacket snagged on a part of the chair frame. Varnish, a 46-year-old father of three from New Jersey, was hanging from the chair about 10 feet off the ground just beyond the loading zone for about 8 minutes. 

His jacket wrapped around his torso and a coroner determined he died of positional asphyxiation

Varnish’s children sued the ski area, arguing the ski area was negligent. The lawsuit claimed Vail ski area did not properly train rescue workers in chairlift evacuation procedures. The family also claimed the ski area violated resort responsibility rules for chairlifts outlined in the Colorado Ski Safety Act as well as  regulations enforced by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. 

The ski area argued its waiver and liability releases that were part of Varnish’s ski pass and ski gear rental agreement prevented the family from suing or any financial settlement. The argument that resorts should not have total liability from those fine-print waivers required for the purchase ski passes and lift tickets has been tested in several cases. The family of a Texas woman who died following a fall from a Ski Granby Ranch chairlift in 2018 last year settled with the ski area before a trial in early 2022. 


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