Arapahoe Basin skier hanging unconscious from chairlift rescued Wednesday morning

Kevin Fixler /
A daring rescue took place Wednesday morning, Jan. 4, at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area when a skier’s backpack strap got caught in the lift as he was unloading from the chair. Guest Mickey Wilson sprung to action and freed the man hanging unconscious by his neck as ski patrollers assisted below.
Courtesy of The Denver Post

A skier was hurried to a Lakewood hospital Wednesday following a daring rescue from a chairlift at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area earlier that morning. The skier’s backpack got caught and he was left hanging and unconscious by his neck.

A-Basin confirmed Thursday that the man was attempting to unload from the three-person Lenawee Mountain Lift at approximately 11 a.m. on Jan. 4 when a strap he was wearing became entangled in the chair. Realizing what had happened, the operator shut down the lift, but by then the skier had already swung around and was suspended by what eyewitnesses estimated as 10-to-15 feet off the ground.

That’s when Mickey Wilson, another ski area guest who had been one chair behind, sprung into action. The part-time, but off-duty, A-Basin ski instructor told The Denver Post that after a failed attempt by himself and other bystanders to reach the dangling man via a human pyramid, he decided to scramble up the nearby tower to try to reach him. (Attempts by the Daily to reach Wilson were unsuccessful Thursday.)

“I kind of stopped thinking and just started acting,” the 28-year-old Golden resident told the Post. “The only way I was able to get to him so fast was to climb the tower and shimmy down the line.”

In jarring photos and a video posted online, Wilson — a champion competitive slackliner — can be seen sliding about 30 feet down the lift cable to reach the chair where the skier dangled lifeless. Once there, he first attempted to kick the strap clear of the chair before one of six ski patrollers who arrived on scene lobbed Wilson a knife to successfully free the man.

Patrollers immediately surrounded the man, and, according to an A-Basin statement, a paramedic gave emergency care at the scene. The skier was then taken by toboggan to the base area, loaded into an ambulance just before noon, and rushed him to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. He was then transferred to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood. A St. Anthony spokeswoman confirmed the man was treated overnight and discharged Thursday afternoon.

The accident was the second high-profile chairlift incident in Colorado in as many weeks. On Thursday morning, Dec. 29, a Texas woman and her two daughters fell about 25 feet from a chair at Ski Granby Ranch in Grand County. Kelly Huber, 40, subsequently died from her traumatic injuries and her 9- and 12-year-old girls each received emergency treatment at separate hospitals.

The 12-year-old was released from Middle Park Medical Center in Granby, while Children’s Hospital in Aurora said it would not be providing further information on the condition of the 9-year-old, per the family’s request. An investigation into the cause of the a incident is ongoing, but an eyewitness who said he was sitting three chairs behind on the Quickdraw Express Lift told People Magazine he saw the chair swinging and appear to hit a sign of the ski tower and eject the family. Officials have confirmed that the safety bar was not in use by the family when they fell.

“These types of incidences, they are extremely rare,” said Chris Linsmayer, a spokesman for ski area trade association Colorado Ski Country USA. “In the particular case at Arapahoe Basin, the lift did operate correctly, ski patrol was on scene in minutes, and the response was appropriate.”

He noted the last time a fall from a chairlift in the state led to a fatality was 2002, and that there have been 186 million skier visits and almost 10 times that number — 1.7 billion — lift rides before the tragic circumstances that took Huber’s life last week.

“As far as inspections go, Colorado really has the gold standard across the country,” said Linsmayer. “So actually riding a chairlift, you’re five times safer than being in an elevator and eight times safer than riding in a car, to put it in context of things that people do somewhat regularly.”

Since 1965, a group called the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, which is managed by the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, has been in place to annually register and inspect ski resort lifts. The organization is made up of eight inspectors — all professional engineers — who conduct at least two reviews of every lift throughout the state each year. Linsmayer said Colorado is the only state in the country to require that its lift inspectors have backgrounds as licensed engineers.

As of Thursday, the Quickdraw Express at Granby Ranch remained closed while the investigation there continues. Meanwhile, following the startling event Wednesday at A-Basin, the Lenawee lift soon resumed running regularly after officials determined there was no damage nor malfunction, and was also open to guests as operations got underway Thursday morning.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office stated in a Thursday afternoon press release that the case remains an active investigation by Arapahoe Basin, the U.S. Forest Service and the Tramway Safety Board with no other information available at this time. The rapid rescue, however, is not an episode anyone who either witnessed it or participated in will soon forget.

“He was not only caught, he was literally being hung by his neck by his backpack,” Wilson told the Post. “Just seeing a person get the life sucked out of them. It was one of the most scary things I’ve ever seen, honestly.”

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