Staff at Sugar Mountain Resort were within minutes of finding and rescuing a teenager stranded on a ski lift when he decided to fall 30 feet to the ground, the president of the resort said Wednesday. The teen broke bones in the fall, then had to crawl hundreds of yards before people spotted him.
“We are very conscientious about the safety of our guests and our staff,” resort President Gunther Jochl told the Observer. “We take this very seriously. We don’t want anything like this to happen.”
The family of the snowboarder, who suffered frostbite as well as broken bones, sued the popular North Carolina mountains ski resort in federal court in Asheville on Tuesday. The youth and his parents, Robert and Wendy Elliott, seek at least $75,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit.
The youth chose to drop off the lift to avoid freezing to death, the lawsuit says.
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The Tennessee family contends workers at Sugar Mountain Resort in Avery County “were dismissive” when the youth’s mother reported him missing. Instead of immediately launching a rescue effort, staff speculated the youth “probably wandered off the ski slope or trails,” according to the lawsuit.
Jochl countered that claim to the Observer.
“We immediately went searching for him,” Jochl said. “We conducted a search and were within minutes of locating him when he decided to jump.”
Jochl said he has seen the teen since the incident on Feb. 14, 2016, and that he has returned to school and appears to be doing well. The family’s lawsuit does not list the snowboarder’s name and age, but Jochl said he is 14.
The lawsuit claims resort staff were negligent in failing to check the lift for any riders before shutting it down that afternoon. Citing the litigation, Jochl declined to say if or how the teen might have been unaccounted for by staff. “We really can’t get into that,” he said.
After several hours stuck on the lift, the youth worried about surviving the night and jumped, the lawsuit says. It was snowing and about 14 degrees, with a wind chill of about 8 degrees when the lift closed.
After about 2 hours on the lift, the sun had set, it was still snowing, wind increased to 5.8 mph and the wind chill dropped to about 6 degrees, the lawsuit says.
Snow-making equipment and high winds drowned out his cries for help, according to the lawsuit.
After several hours, the teen became sleepy, and he was afraid he would fall asleep and ether freeze or fall out of the chair.
He took his snowboard off, crawled over the edge of the chair, grasped a metal bar below the chair, hung from the bar and then let go, falling to the frozen ground below, the lawsuit says.
The fall knocked him unconscious. When he came to, he crawled in pain about 200 yards out of thick woods via a service road to the adjoining Gunter’s Way ski run.
He crawled another 300 yards down the ski run to the lighted terrain park area, which had since reopened for night skiing. Two members of the public found him and called ski patrol.