Betsy Marston: Drama on the chairlifts |

Betsy Marston: Drama on the chairlifts

Betsy Marston
Heard Around the West


Watch out: Backpacks can be hazardous to your health. Mickey Wilson, 28, a prize-winning slackliner and part-time ski instructor, had just gotten off a chairlift at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin ski area, he told The Denver Post, when he saw the man ahead of him, a friend of some friends, dangling from a chair by his neck. The man’s backpack snagged somehow when he tried to get off, and he was now hanging helplessly, strangling. The lift halted, and Wilson said he and a few bystanders tried to build a human pyramid to reach the man, but they kept falling over.

“That’s when I realized — it all kind of snapped together — that I can climb this tower and get to him. … I kind of stopped thinking and just started acting.” In about five minutes, Wilson recalled, he’d climbed the lift tower and shimmied along the line to the chair holding the unconscious man. Ski patrollers arrived just then and one of them tossed Wilson a knife; he cut the backpack straps holding the man, who fell some 10 to 15 feet. Afterward, the man, identified only as Richard, was reunited with Wilson on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” He survived with only a “tweaked neck,” a broken rib and some bruises. As for Wilson, he told the Post, “Just seeing a person get the life sucked out of them … was one of the most scary things I’ve ever seen, honestly.”

A similar accident happened at Utah’s Sundance Mountain Resort, also in early January, when a child was caught in a chairlift by his backpack. The Associated Press reports that two lift operators used a ladder to free the boy.

In a happier encounter at the Purgatory ski resort near Durango, an insouciant Canada lynx padded across the snow in full view of dozens of amazed skiers. Airrick Hix posted a brief video on Facebook, saying, “That just happened!!! The majestic lynx!!!” The tufted-eared wildcat, which wasn’t wearing a tracking collar, appeared unfazed by the attention, The Denver Post reported. Lynx were extinct in the state until 1999, when state wildlife officials began restoring them to the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Sadly, however, the lynx was later found dead near a ski lift. The cause was a throat tumor, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency.

Animal stories

A cow moose trapped in the icy St. Joe River in Idaho had almost frozen to death when four good Samaritans plunged into action. County Judge Doug Payne, the first to spot the suffering animal, enlisted Fish and Game officer Julie Lininger, and they flagged down two passersby. Together, the four fashioned a towrope and hauled the moose to safety, according to The Week. It took 30 minutes to free the moose, but she seemed fine when she joined her calf on the riverbank. A chilled Lininger said everybody then scurried off the ice and went home “with a great story.”

In Yoder, Kansas, two butchers trying to kill a bison that was “confined inside a trailer” have a less happy tale to tell. The bison kept turning away, so Duane Helms walked to the end of the trailer to try to turn the massive animal around in order to give the shooter, who was perched on a ladder, room to shoot. But the bison balked, bumped into the side of the trailer and dislodged the ladder, causing the rifle to fire and wound Helms in the leg. No word on what the bison did next, or whether it planned to plead self-defense in court.

And in Glenwood Springs, a wandering bighorn ram encountered a formidable foe but easily vanquished him with a resounding crash, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported. The foe was the ram’s own image as reflected in the window glass of the door — now broken — of a business on the ground floor of the historic Hotel Colorado.


Two decades ago, Peter Metcalf, then-CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, had the foresight to bring the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show to Utah. It’s now a big deal: The twice-yearly shows bring in nearly $50 million to the state, while Utah’s booming outdoor industry generates nearly $12 billion a year along with 120,000 jobs. So why, Metcalf asked in a blistering column in the Salt Lake Tribune, have state leaders “unleashed an all-out assault against Utah’s protected public lands and Utah’s newest monument”? He pointed out that four of Utah’s five iconic national parks were created through the Antiquities Act — “as was Bears Ears National Monument” — and argued that what our public lands need is not privatization or financial starvation but support and stewardship. If the governor and Legislature continue to press their anti-public lands agenda, Metcalf warned, the Outdoor Retailer shows “must leave Utah” in 2018, when the current contract expires. The outdoor recreation industry must not be “complicit collaborators in our own demise,” he said. “It’s time for the industry to again find its voice, speak truth and power to power.” A few weeks later, gear industry leaders announced that the retailer show would definitely seek a new venue.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, the op ed service of High Country News ( Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared at

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