This was before Intrawest's 1991 takeover, and the bankrupt resort’s business woes were being echoed on the slopes. So it came as quite a relief when the lift shuddered and finally lurched forward.
But my relief was short-lived. Almost immediately it stopped again. There was a pause, then another lurch. Then a pause, then a lurch. A few lurches later, I realized what was happening: I was being winched up.
With the summit more than a kilometre away, I knew I would look even more like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining if I stayed put. So I raised the safety bar, dropped my poles, pushed off with both hands, and dropped about 12 feet onto the snowy slopes below. It didn’t hurt a bit...likely because I couldn’t feel my legs.
But that was NOTHING compared to this other time when I...er...actually, in more than four decades of skiing, I can’t recall ever feeling unsafe on a lift again.
If you just watched footage of that malfunctioning Georgian chairlift tossing skiers and snowboarders around like Final Destination extras, I’m afraid I can’t offer anything comparable. Very few skiers and snowboarders can, given that ski lifts are among the safest forms of transportation in existence.
Since the National Ski Areas Association began compiling U.S. industry stats in 1973, there have been 13 deaths attributed to chairlift malfunctions. That’s 13 too many, to be sure, but it’s incredibly few considering that nearly 18 billion lift rides have taken place over the intervening years. U.S. lifts have transported guests more than 14 billion kilometres since 1973, which is equivalent to more than 90 trips from the Earth to the Sun (not on skis, presumably). This safety record has improved dramatically over the last 25 years, with just a single fatality resulting from a chairlift malfunction since 1993.
Of course, reading these stats doesn’t make the Georgian snafu any less scary to watch. The good news: No one was seriously injured. And if some people are scared to ride chairlifts after viewing the viral videos, their loss is my gain. More fresh powder and shorter lift lines for me!
But if I’m not being selfish, I think they should reconsider. After all, are they going to stop riding elevators and driving cars as well? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a passenger is five times more likely to suffer a fatality riding an elevator than a ski lift, and is more than eight times more likely to die while riding in a car.
Plus, can you do THIS after riding an elevator?