Vail chairlift death witness: ‘Lift operator was not paying attention’ |

Vail chairlift death witness: ‘Lift operator was not paying attention’

Police report details February incident, which claimed the life of skier Jason Varnish

John LaConte
Vail Daily

As Jason Varnish hung to death on a Vail chairlift in February, the lone lift operator yelled to witnesses that he was not able to reverse the lift without permission, according to a Sheriff’s Office incident report released Wednesday.

The witness attempted to board Chair 37 with Varnish that day, and noticed the seat had been folded up so a rider could not sit down without falling through, according to the report.

“(Varnish) tried to push it down,” the report states.

The witness told police he got out of the way while Varnish’s clothing got caught on the rubber stopper, he thought, lifting him 20-25 feet off the ground. The witness yelled for the lift operator to stop the lift, the report says.

“The lift operator was not paying attention and had been cleaning off snow in the area,” according to the witness, the report states. “A few seconds later the lift stopped and (the witness) observed (Varnish) hanging from the lift.”

Guests attempted to form a human pyramid to push up Varnish’s legs and feet.

“They were not able to do this due to the snow being so deep,” the report states.

The witness said he told the lift operator to reverse the lift.

“The lift operator advised that he could not do that without permission,” the report states. “A short time later (the lift) was reversed and (Varnish) was cut down and CPR was starting due to (Varnish) being unconscious.”

Varnish was a father of three who lived in Millburn, New Jersey. His family asked donations to be sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in his name.

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