Boy gets stuck on Buttermilk lift
Ryan Summerlin December 20, 2007
ASPEN ” A 9-year-old boy’s aspirations to get the last run of the day were derailed when he got stuck on a chairlift after operators stopped it for the night.
The child, who was visiting from Europe, sat on the Summit Express chairlift at Buttermilk on Sunday for about 20 minutes until his yell for help got the attention of a hiker below him.
Aspen Skiing Co. lift operators didn’t see the boy get on the chairlift at about 3:40 p.m. The last chair was called about nine minutes later and was stopped for the evening. During their end-of-the-day sweep, ski patrol missed the boy as well.
The boy couldn’t be seen from the top lift shack and the chair stopped next to a lift tower so he wasn’t noticed by patrollers.
“That was another miss,” Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Tuesday. “You should be looking for everything.”
The boy sat six chairs from the top until about 4:10 p.m. when the hiker called her boyfriend from her cell phone, and he notified Skico officials that the child was stuck on the chairlift.
“It was an unfortunate series of events,” Hanle said. “No one is happy about it.”
The boy went unnoticed at the loading deck of the Summit Express because workers were breaking down the lift-line ropes, known in the industry as the “maze.” The maze was being taken down so a snowcat could disperse a large amount of snow at the base of the mountain.
The boy came in from the east side of the lift terminal and the workers were on the west side.
“He got through and was not seen,” Hanle said, adding the boy had taken a ski lesson earlier that day and had asked his father if he could take one more run by himself.
As soon as Skico was notified, the lift was fired back up, the boy was unloaded and taken to the ski patrol hut where he was wrapped in a warm blanket and given a hot drink.
“He was cold but surprisingly in good spirits,” Hanle said.
Almost simultaneously, the father had gone to the ski school desk at the bottom of Buttermilk to inquire about the whereabouts of his child.
The boy was taken down the mountain via snowmobile and reunited with his father, who apparently wasn’t that upset about the incident, Hanle said. Buttermilk Ski Area Manager Hans Hohl stayed with the parent until the child was returned safely.
The ordeal didn’t seem to phase the young skier, as he took lessons at Buttermilk the following two days ” Monday and Tuesday. The Skico paid for them.
“It’s the least we could do,” Hanle said.
Hanle said he didn’t know how many feet in the air the boy was suspended but said it wasn’t that high.
The boy and his family could not be reached for comment, and are no longer in the Aspen area.
No employees will be reprimanded for the incident, nor will there be any changes to Skico’s policies and procedures, Hanle said.
“It was unfortunate but it wasn’t any reckless violation of policy,” he said.
However, there will be a thorough investigation and analysis of why it happened, and how it can be prevented in the future.
“This kind of reinforces the policy,” Hanle said, adding the incident should put lift operators and ski patrollers on high alert. “If we are taking down the maze we should have something else there blocking it.”