The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office said the girl fell 29 feet from the Sundance Ski Lift at 1 p.m. Sunday and was transported to a hospital with possible pelvic and leg injuries.
Investigators said a preliminary investigation indicates the fall was accidental and that the 6-year-old was never fully seated in the lift before falling.
The Sundance lift has two-person chairs that do not have restraining bars.
Emily Ringoen and her sister Jamie Fischer were in line for the Sundance lift behind the girl when the incident happened.
“Right away you could tell she wasn’t on the lift properly,” Ringoen said. “It looked like it knocked her off balance and she was laying on her back with her arm wrapped around the armrest. I started yelling at the liftie, and other people did, too, ‘Stop the lift, she’s falling off!’”
But despite onlookers shouting about the girl, Fischer said the lift didn’t stop.
“The lifties were just kind of standing there,” Fischer said. “A bunch of people were shouting. People were really frantic, because this kid was dangling off the lift.”
Ringoen said the other little girl in the lift looked like she was trying to hold onto the other girl.
“Suddenly we just saw the little body fall from the chair,” Ringoen said. “Everyone kind of screamed, and the liftie still didn’t stop the lift. It was really odd.”
Eldora issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Our thoughts are with the family and we hope for a speedy recovery.”
Leigh Fiske, whose 5-year-old daughter takes lessons at Eldora, said she was “shocked and horrified” to hear news of the incident, but also said child safety on the lifts has been an issue she has brought up with the resort in the past.
“It was exactly what I and another mother had been telling Eldora all season was going to happen,” Fiske said. “We were given assurances from multiple people from Eldora that our kids would never ride alone on a lift. We found out that repeatedly, our children were sent on that very lift without a safety bar and an adult present.”
So Fiske helped pen an online petition that has already garnered more than 600 signatures since being posted Tuesday night.
“We understand that there is inherent risk in skiing,” the petition reads. “We also understand that Eldora’s current lift policy and day-to-day practices place our children at unreasonable and unnecessary risk.”
The petition asks that Eldora change its policy to require an adult ride with children 6 and younger and less than 48 inches tall, as opposed to the current policy which the group says only requires an adult in those situations if one is “available.”
“That essentially means you have no policy,” Fiske said. “That’s not good enough.”
In addition, the petition asks Eldora to allow parents to accompany kids for no additional fee if no other adults are present. The petition also set out some long-term requests, including asking the resort to put in restraint bars, conduct a full review of best practices in ski school and lift safety, and retrain all lift operators.
“I would like to see the training of a lift operator be like the training of a lifeguard, that seriously, especially when it comes to children,” said parent Larisa Wilder, whose 5-year-old son takes lessons at Eldora.
Wilder also acknowledged that while the petition calls for restraining bars on all lifts, she would at least like to see it sooner rather than later on lifts that see frequent use by children.
“We understand not being able to put safety bars on every lift by tomorrow,” Wilder said. “But we want there to be some acknowledgment it needs to be done, and have a plan put forward.”
Eldora issued a further statement on Wednesday regarding the petition.
“Eldora is proud to be a family-friendly mountain,” the statement read. “Many of the staff at Eldora are parents themselves whose kids are growing up, or have grown up, learning to ski or ride at the resort. Thousands of kids enjoy our ski and ride school programs each year. What happened on Sunday involving a 6-year-old-female guest, who was enrolled in ski and ride school when she fell approximately 29 feet from a carrier on Eldora’s Sundance chairlift, is extremely rare.
“We take safety seriously, from the way we train our teams to the way we operate the resort. As such, and in light of Sunday’s incident, we are reviewing all of our policies and procedures related to children on lifts. We will continue to take steps that ensure Eldora remains a safe and great place to learn.”
Adrienne Saia Isaac, a spokeswoman with the National Ski Areas Association, said every ski area and ski lift is different, making it hard to create universal guidelines or policies.
“We do not regulate individual resort policy,” Isaac said. “What we do offer to both resorts and guests is best practices.”
Isaac said one resource for parents is kidsonlifts.org, which has some safety tips for young skiers.
“It’s important to talk to kids before they go to the ski area so they understand what the best ways are to load and unload the lifts,” Isaac said.
But some parents feel the burden shouldn’t just be on children to use lifts safely.
“It has nothing to do with skiing, just developmentally they are not capable of making the quick decisions when loading the lift,” Wilder said.
Added Fiske about young children: “They’re not shaped correctly for the seats.”
Fiske said she hopes the outcry over this recent incident and the signatures on the petition spark the resort to do something soon.
“It’s not like Eldora was not aware of this situation,” Fiske said. “It’s incredibly upsetting a little girl would have to get hurt in order for them to listen.”
Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/mitchellbyars