Details emerge in Aspen Highlands chairlift incident

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Law enforcement officials Thursday remained silent about the whereabouts of a man they suspect threw a snowboarder off a chairlift at Aspen Highlands nearly three weeks ago.

No one has yet been arrested or charged in connection with the incident, said Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan. And while Ryan has said the community is currently in no danger, he has declined to say why that is. He also said he cannot comment about whether an arrest warrant has been issued in the case.

However, a few details have surfaced about a 31-year-old Aspen man sheriff’s deputies interviewed just days after the Jan. 17 incident. At that time, a deputy investigating the case said he was interested in a local man “for this.”

“We may not need to release a description (of him),” Deputy Jesse Steindler said at the time. “That’s how confident we are that we can identify this person.”

Steindler stopped talking about the case soon after that and has declined to comment ever since. Investigators still have not released a description of the man despite having video surveillance on the base of Aspen Highlands that morning and conducting interviews with several witnesses, including a man who was on the same chair with the snowboarder who was pushed.

Law enforcement officials cannot legally comment on a case that involves juveniles, someone taken into protective custody or someone being held for mental-health reasons.

The local man deputies interviewed two days after the incident also had previous contact with the Aspen Police Department in 2015, though he was not arrested, according to the department’s records custodian. An Aspen Times request for a copy of the report detailing contact was denied.

“After further reviewing the incident I noted this morning and discussing it with Assistant Chief Bill Linn, it has been determined that the incident is not releasable due to the mental health welfare check nature of the contact,” records custodian Cathleen Treacy wrote in an email to The Aspen Times.

Seth Beckton, the snowboarder who was thrown off the lift, said Thursday he doesn’t know the name of the man who pushed him or anything about him. However, he said the man wasn’t still on the streets.

“He’s in the custody of the authorities and possibly under watch,” Beckton said. “To push someone off a chairlift … (means) he’s not mentally well.

“It was pretty much a crazy person on the chairlift.”

Beckton, a 28-year-old photographer, said he initially thought the man was on drugs “or mentally not right” because his reactions were “not normal” during their brief conversation on the lift that morning.

Beckton told the Times the day after the incident that he barely spoke to the man on the ride up the Loge Peak chairlift that Sunday morning. But near the top of the lift, they began talking about the 5 to 6 inches of powder on the ground, and Beckton commented that it was easier for skiers to get face shots of powder than for snowboaders.

“To get tits-deep pow shots you just need to be on your edges,” Beckton, in a Facebook post, quoted himself as saying.

After that comment, Beckton said the skier turned to him and said, “Are you making fun of me?”

Beckton said the comment surprised him because he wasn’t trying to offend him. He said he thought the man might be joking, so he said, “Not really — but maybe.”

“If you think that’s funny,” Beckton said the skier then told him, “do you think this is funny?”

The skier then grabbed Beckton and threw him off the chair. Beckton said he fell face-first 20 to 25 feet and, lucky for him, landed in a pile of snow and was not injured. The incident occurred 50 to 100 feet from the top of the lift just past the last lift tower, he said. A lift operator stopped the chairs after Beckton was pushed, but not before the skier was able to exit the chair, he said.

Beckton said he hiked out of the deep snow and waited on the ski run to confront the man but never saw him. He then decided that since he wasn’t hurt, he didn’t want the incident to ruin his powder day, so he snowboarded the rest of the day and didn’t report it until about 3:45 p.m.

Beckton said he regretted not reporting the incident earlier.

On Thursday, Beckton said the shock of incident led him to make the odd decision not to immediately report it.

“When you’re in a traumatic situation, you don’t know how to react,” he said. “You’re not thinking in a normal way.”

Beckton also echoed comments made by Ryan that the incident didn’t have anything to do with tension between skiers and snowboarders.

“Not at all,” he said when asked if that played into it. “It was more of a mental state and not, ‘I hate snowboarders and I’m gonna push you off the lift.’

“People are holding onto an old rivalry that doesn’t exist.”

Beckton said he’s been back on the ski hill since being thrown off the lift, but he’s not the happy-go-lucky snowboarder he once was.

“If someone touches me, I have the impulse to grab on to something,” he said. “I give people the once-over now more than before.”

Jeff Hanle, spokesman for Aspen Skiing Co., has declined to release whether the man identified as the pusher had a season ski pass and, if so, whether it’s been pulled. Hanle also has refused to say whether the lift operator who stopped the lift after Beckton was pushed filed a report about it or was supposed to contact authorities about the incident.

The first time anyone at Aspen Highlands heard about the incident was after Beckton reported it at 3:45 p.m. that Sunday, Hanle has said.


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