GORHAM — Vail Resort’s local woes continued over the weekend. A triple chair fell near the base of Vail-owned Wildcat Mountain’s Snowcat lift last Saturday afternoon, sending a snowboarder to Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin.
Broomfield, Colo.-based Vail Resorts took over local resorts Wildcat and Bartlett’s Attitash Mountain in 2019.
During the recent busy Christmas vacation week, Attitash was also plagued with long lines stemming from its own lift woes, reportedly spotty snowmaking and labor shortages.
The lift involved in the incident at Wildcat Mountain is a 1974 Riblet that serves beginner trails out of the base area. At 1:30 p.m., Wildcat posted that Snowcat would remain closed for the day.
“We can confirm an incident occurred on Jan. 8, 2022 at Wildcat Mountain involving a 22-year-old male,” read an emailed statement from Vail Resorts. “The guest was transported to Androscoggin Valley Hospital. The incident involved the Snowcat Triple, which is closed until further notice.
“Guests were safely unloaded off the lift at approximately 1:35 p.m.,” Vail shared in the email. “This incident is under investigation, and we have no further details to share at this time.”
According to liftblog.com, chairs utilizing Riblet insert clips have fallen on occasion in recent years including last season at Indianhead, Michigan and 49 Degrees North, Washington.
Within Vail Resorts, a Riblet triple chair fell from Heavenly’s North Bowl triple in 2016. Approximately 275 Riblet lifts currently operate worldwide, mostly in the United States.
Longtime Wildcat skier Jeffrey Dowdy, former mechanical engineering professor at Northeastern University mechanical engineer professor and now consultant to a Cambridge, Mass., firm, said he and his son and granddaughter were at Wildcat when the incident occurred.
“I heard a noise and looked over and the chair was on the ground and a man who had been riding it was sitting there about 30 feet from where you first sit on the chair,” Dowdy said. “I then skied over. The detachment occurred before the first tower. It had been going from side to side, I was told.
“The ski patrol was doing a very good job,” he continued. “They put the young man onto a sled and brought him down to an ambulance. They restarted the lift and ran it to the top to get the people off — I had thought they would have done a lift evacuation, but they didn’t.
““We all love Wildcat. I’m sorry this whole thing is happening. But it seems to be a bigger issue than just here,” he told the Sun Sunday evening.
Doug Lamb, 82, of Intervale, a Wildcat skier for 50 years and a retired mechanical engineer, said he was at Wildcat on Saturday and saw the man lying motionless by the first tower after the chair detached.
“I didn’t see it happen but was there just after it happened. I told my story to the state Fire Marshall’s office this morning because I think it’s important that people know what happened regarding that lift,” said Lamb.
“I hear that people are saying he rocked the chair, but he didn’t,” Lamb said.
“I happened to have been riding that chair on Thursday with my friend Herbie, who’s also 82, and I mentioned to him that the chair was rocking when we got on and we figured it was because there weren’t that many people riding it and we also almost hit the second tower, too,” said Lamb.
He said although he did not see it happen, he heard that the chair hit the passenger on the head when it detached and he was knocked to the ground. He said he saw a skier go over to the fallen man and lift the chair seat off him. He then described seeing the Wildcat Ski Patrol provide emergency first aid to the man for about a half-hour before he was put in a sled and brought to an ambulance.
“I heard on the news that he walked out of the hospital, but I don’t see how,” said Lamb.
A call was placed to the hospital Monday, but an AVH spokesman said it is against hospital policy and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules to release patient information.
State Fire Marshal Sean Toomey confirmed to the Sun Monday afternoon that investigators had returned to the scene at Wildcat Monday morning and the cause of the incident remained under investigation.
“They are still looking into it, but we do feel there was a misload of the chair that caused it to swing into the first tower and detach,” he said.
“As for the snowboarder in his early 20s, he injured his ribs and was taken to the hospital. We do not know of his current status,” said Toomey.
None of Wildcat’s lifts was in operation Monday. A notice on skiwildcat.com said that due to high winds at the top of the lifts, “We are closing for the remainder of the day. See everybody tomorrow!”
“The rocking of a chair happens when the cable gets worn, and I think because of the lack of manpower and everything that they are not maintaining or upgrading those lifts. That lift was there when I started skiing there in 1962,” said Lamb.
UPDATE from print version: Adam White, senor manager of resort communications, Northeast Region, Vail Resorts, said Monday evening that the guest was transported to the hospital in Berlin and released, adding, "Our thoughts are with this guest and we wish him a speedy recovery." He said the Wildcat Snowcat Lift "will remain closed until further notice" and the resort is working with N.H. Passenger tramway Safety Board officials and hopes to be able to re-open "the lift soon."