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When Sugar Mountain’s ski lift closed, stranded youth had to choose: Jump or freeze

Take a ride on the Sugar Mountain Resort chairlift

A snowboarder jumped 30 feet off a ski lift at Sugar Mountain Resort in Avery County, NC, to avoid freezing, then crawled several hundred yards for help, a lawsuit says
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A snowboarder jumped 30 feet off a ski lift at Sugar Mountain Resort in Avery County, NC, to avoid freezing, then crawled several hundred yards for help, a lawsuit says

The family of a snowboarder who suffered broken bones and frostbite after falling 30 feet off a ski lift to avoid freezing to death has sued the popular N.C. mountains ski resort where the youth’s nightmare unfolded.

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.

Resort staff were negligent in failing to check the lift for any riders before shutting it down the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2016, the lawsuit claims.

The youth and his parents, Robert and Wendy Elliott, seek at least $75,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Asheville.

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. The lawsuit does not list the youth’s name and age.

After about 2 hours on the lift, the sun had set, it was still snowing, wind increased to 5.8 mph and temperature with the wind chill dropped to about 6 degrees, the lawsuit says.

Snow-making equipment and high winds drowned out the youth’s cries for help, according to the lawsuit.

After several hours, the youth 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 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.

Sugar Mountain Resort officials could not be reached by phone and email Tuesday night. A worker at the park said they would be available during regular works hours on Wednesday.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

Video of western North Carolina ski resorts currently closed due to warm weather conditions.

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