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Utah resort employee killed after tree falls onto chairlift

Posted at 3:29 PM, Jan 04, 2023

PARK CITY, Utah (KSTU) — A Utah ski resort employee died after a tree fell onto a ski lift on Monday.

“In my 19-plus years in law enforcement, I’ve never heard something like this happening," said Capt. Andrew Wright with Summit County Sheriff's Office.

The 29-year-old male employee, who was a ski patroller at Park City Mountain resort, was identified as Christian Helger.

Helger was on the Canyons Village side of the resort aboard a chairlift when a pine tree fell onto it.

Wright said investigators think Helger fell close to 50 feet. Sheriff’s deputies had to enter the ravine through chest-deep snow before finding Helger's body.

“We don’t know right now what the cause of death is,” Wright said. “It could be an injury from the fall. It could also be asphyxiation or suffocation from being in the deep snow. The medical examiner will determine that cause of death.”

Vail Resorts spokesperson Sara Huey said company policy requires employees to restrain themselves by lowering the safety bar when riding a chair lift. Wright said investigators are trying to determine if the bar was down when Helger fell.

Ski lifts and gondolas in Utah are regulated by the Passenger Ropeway Safety Committee, a division of the state’s department of transportation. Rules require lift or gondola operators to file a report to the committee within five days of an accident.

Robert Miles, traffic and safety director at the Utah Department of Transportation, whose responsibilities include the lift oversight, said the committee will receive the report from Park City Mountain Resort and determine what follow-up is needed.

“Ski lifts should have a 5-foot clearance around them when they’re operating from vegetation, tree branches, trees, anything of that sort,” Miles said Tuesday.

Miles added that trees can tower above and within the radius of a lift; only the ones that are dying or look as if they are about to fall need to be cleared.

“During an inspection, that would be noted, and it would be [the resort’s] responsibility to resolve that issue," said Miles, who has been in his post six years and couldn’t recall another example of a tree falling onto a lift.

Ski lift deaths in Utah are rare. Perhaps the worst case was in July 1966 when a woman and a teenage girl died at Timp Haven, which later became the Sundance Mountain Resort.

The Utah Occupational Safety and Health confirmed Tuesday it, too, will investigate the workplace death.

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