Eaglecrest addresses lift safety concerns

Boy, 5, fell from Hooter chairlift Sunday

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A young boy fell off the Hooter chairlift at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Sunday. While reports indicate he did not sustain harsh injuries as a result, Eaglecrest states child safety on the lifts is a priority.

The 5-year-old boy was riding the lift with another child when he fell off at about 11:40 a.m. Eaglecrest General Manager Kirk Duncan said he fell 14 feet, 6 inches. The ski patrol arrived minutes later and he was transported to Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Duncan said family members reported he was not injured from the fall but had his appendix removed while at the hospital. He is recovering and in good health.

Duncan said the boy had ridden Hooter before, but always with an adult. This was his first time on the chairlift with only another child.

He had previously ridden on the Porcupine chair, which is designed more for children and moves slower. Lift operators are also trained to lower the bars for children on Porcupine.

Duncan said the incident has raised issues of lift safety, one of which concerns safety bars. Safety bars were installed on 75 percent of Hooter’s chairs in 2006. Duncan said enough bars for the remainder have been purchased since and should be installed within two weeks.

Safety bars are installed for downhill transportation on the Ptarmigan lift. Porcupine also has them.

A release from Eaglecrest states, “Safety bars can be as much of a problem as they are a solution. Sometimes people forget to raise the bar when they go to unload. You will find most ski lifts on the east coast have safety bars and most lifts on the west coast do not have safety bars. The ski industry is undecided on their use.”

“Quite frankly, a lot of people just don’t want to use them,” Duncan said, stating 90 percent of people there don’t use the bars when they have the option.

He said the Wee Ski and Tykes programs will only use the Porcupine lift. He said ski instructors will continue training on chairlift loading, unloading and riding procedures. This includes the use of safety bars and riding with other children, which he said was equally important in safety.

“What’s interesting is this accident wasn’t caused by unloading but happened while they were on the chair,” he said.

Duncan emphasizes parents must decide if they will allow their children to ride the lifts. He said if they cannot decide, the staff can help by observing the children and evaluating their riding performances while stressing important safety tips, such as sitting all the way back in the chairs.

Eaglecrest holds that people must be able to properly load, ride and unload a chair or they cannot ride. If parents are uncomfortable allowing their children on the lifts, they are encouraged to not do so.

Duncan said there have been inquiries about requiring children to wear neon stickers to ride the lifts, or pairing them with adults. He said this was considered but ultimately deemed impractical, as people must use their judgment when placing children on chairs and many adults do not want the added responsibilities of child supervision while on the lifts. Those that do would not be acting in an official capacity so they cannot be held responsible for a child’s safety.

“We take safety very seriously at Eaglecrest, and we are listening to your concerns. We will install the remaining safety bars, we will restrict children in our Tykes and Wee Ski programs to the Porcupine lift and we will ask parents to use their own judgment on whether their children can safety ride Hooter or our other chairs unassisted,” Duncan said in the release.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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