“Here comes the safety bar!” I cheerily say as we board the chairlift.
“I’m scared” the 5-year old girl says.
“It will be ok, it’s kind of like being a bird and flying.”
Still, I encourage the kids to sit back on the chair.
“Slide back, so you’re sitting against the back of the chair.”
Even though I’ve been riding chairlifts for years at ski resorts, I feel responsible for the kids. The chairlift presents the most challenging part of our ski lesson for the day. As the instructor, our ski day must include one ride on the chairlift, so the kids can learn how to get on and off safely. It’s also the most stressful part of the day for me.
Getting them all lined up four across. Then getting them to the loading zone.
“Ok, everbody, chase the chair. Shuffle, shuffle. Shuffle hard!”
Once we get on the chair, my biggest concern is making sure they are sitting far enough back, so they don’t slide under the safety bar.
And then comes the unload, which can be kind of a mess. And it doesn’t seem to matter what age you are. In fact, frequently, older kids and adults have a harder time than little kids. The trick is that you have to pop out of your seat, standing straight up while letting your skis glide down the ramp. Inevitably, someone collapses on the snow. Then you have another problem, getting them out of the way before the next group unloads.
For me personally, when I ski by myself, my biggest fear has been getting stuck on a life that has broken down, thus forcing a rope rescue by ski patrol. Though I’ve gotten stuck for up to 20 minutes, I’ve never had to go through that.
But all of these incidents seemed minor compared to the catastrophe that happened today in the country of Georgia. Due to some sort of mechanical malfunction, the lift ran in reverse at high speed, sending skiers flying off the chairs as they smashed into each other at the bottom. Though the video only lasted about 1 1/2 minutes, the horror seemed to unfold in slow mo, as each chair came careening backwards to the foot of the hill.
As skiers realized what was happening, they started to jump off the chairs, sometime more 10 feet off the ground to avoid being spun into the tangled metal of chairs stacking up. Screams of horror filled the air as other skiers yelled for someone to stop the lift. Other skiers tried to help people out of the way who had been hurled to the ground. It was a skier’s worst nightmare.
As an employee at my home resort, I know all the lifts had a huge red button they can push at any time to stop the lift. Why that didn’t happen, I have no idea.
But I can tell you one thing, after watching that video, I will never be going skiing in the country of Georgia.