On the morning of January 4 at Arapahoe Basin, a potentially awful situation was prevented by the quick thinking and impressive dexterity of Mickey Wilson, a professional slackliner and hero of the day. When Wilson saw someone he knew caught on the chairlift and hanging by his neck, he traversed the lift line and was able to cut him down and get some quick help. Just like Spider-Man.
But not all of the emergency situations that arise on Colorado's slopes turn out so nicely. Here are the top ten Colorado skiing accidents that garnered national attention and remind us that it’s always safety first out there.
1. Michael Kennedy dies in Aspen. Robert F. Kennedy's 39-year-old son died on New Year’s Eve Day 1997, playing football while skiing Aspen Mountain’s Copper Bowl. It was a game that the Kennedy family had enjoyed for over three decades, and was considered daring, if not dangerous. This time, Kennedy was caught off-balance and too close to the treeline, lost an edge, and went into a tree head first. He had not been wearing a helmet.
2. A Texas mom falls from a chairlift at Granby Ranch. Just before the end of 2016, on December 29, Kelly Huber and her two daughters fell 25 feet from the Quickdraw lift at Granby Ranch, a small resort that’s known for being family-friendly. The cause of the accident has not yet been determined. Although Huber died at the scene, her two daughters, ages nine and twelve, were only injured. The chairlift remains closed pending an investigation.
3. John McWethy, American journalist, struck a tree at Keystone. Former ABC reporter and noted journalist John McWethy died at Keystone on February 6, 2008. McWethy, who was by then retired and living in Boulder, was on an intermediate run and going at high speed when he apparently lost control and hit a tree, sustaining lethal blunt-force injuries to the chest.
4. Skier vs. snowboarder. On January 17, 2016, at the Aspen Highlands ski area, snowboarder Seth Beckton was sharing a chairlift with skier Thomas Proesel when, after a short and seemingly innocuous conversation, Proesel pushed Beckton off the lift. Beckton fell over 25 feet, only to land without injury in the fresh powder below. Beckon was so spooked that he proceeded to ski out the rest of his day, only to report the event later at the urging of friends outraged on his behalf. Proeser, who was finally tracked down as the culprit, was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Keep reading for more notable ski accidents.
5. Four backcountry skiers perish in an avalanche. The dangers of backcountry skiing were brought to national attention with the tragic death of four skiers who were caught in an avalanche near Breckenridge. On February 19, 1987, a quartet of skiers took it off-trail, heading from Breck’s T-Bar to Peak 7, unfortunately setting off an avalanche that produced one of the biggest such search-and-rescue operations ever. 6. Doak Walker died as a result of an accident at Steamboat. Heisman winner and Detroit Lions halfback Doak Walker, immortalized by the award given to the best college running back of the year, was paralyzed in January 1998 when he hit a bad patch, went airborne, then tumbled almost 75 feet. Walker, who founded Denver’s Walker Chemicals after retiring from the NFL in 1955, passed away at Routt Hospital in Steamboat Springs in September that same year because of complications from the paralysis following the fall. 7. Five snowboarders die in a Loveland-area avalanche. On April 20, 2013, five skiers were overtaken by a sudden slide in the Sheep Creek drainage near Loveland. The five were all experienced skiers, well equipped and knowledgeable in backcountry skiing and how to best prepare for it. One managed to crawl out of the spill and call for help; the bodies of the other four were later found. Unfortunately, when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, sometimes all the prep in the world isn’t enough.
8. Gondolas fall and kill four in Vail. On Friday, March 26, 1976, two of the gondola cars at Vail suddenly plunged 125 feet, killing three riders instantly. A fourth succumbed to his injuries in a Denver hospital. Meanwhile, over thirty other full gondolas dangled perilously up in the air, stuck on a failing cable, some of them suspended over 225 feet in the air. The culprit turned out to be a frayed cable over Tower 4 and an apparent pattern of inattention to maintenance overall. 9. Alfonso de Borbon, Duke of Cadiz, was killed at Beaver Creek. The death of Borbon, the Duke of Anjou, on January 30, 1989, at Beaver Creek Resort wasn’t just notable because it was the sudden loss of Spanish royalty, rather, it was the grisly way in which he died. The duke, a cousin of King Juan Carlos of Spain, was an avid skier and president of both the Spanish Skiing Federation and the Spanish Olympic Committee. He was decapitated when he came down a slope and collided with a cable being hoisted at the finish line of one of the ski runs being prepared to host the World Alpine Skiing Championships. 10. Teller Lift in Keystone collapses. This December 14, 1985, accident changed the way the industry maintained and inspected its equipment. Only about a year into use, the Lift Engineering design failed completely when faulty weld breaks on a main pulley dropped the bullwheel and snapped the lift’s haul rope, sending passengers flying, some over forty feet. While no one was killed in the initial incident, two people would later die from injuries sustained — and Lift Engineering would go out of business for the design flaw that caused this accident, which would have caused the same thing to happen to all eleven of the company’s models then in use.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.