Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Snow, skis, and a long drop

Here's a conversation I had this weekend, fifty feet up in the air.

Me: "I can't believe this chair lift doesn't have a safety bar. I just cannot believe it."
Juan: "You're gripping a little tight.  Scared?"
"Hell, yes. I'm scared of heights and here we are, fifty feet off the ground on a wooden bench in an arctic gale and an ice pack below us. And no bloody safety bar."
"First of all, it's a mild breeze. Second, it's snow beneath you."
"Yeah, fifty feet beneath me."
"Forty. At most."
"Whatever, man. This is 2013, they should have safety bars on chair lifts. On all of them."
"Fall off chairs a lot, do you?" 

I don't, actually.  But a fear of heights is not always logical. And guess what? I had a small boy, my favorite small boy in the world, next to me.

Think about that. An eight-year-old boy, whose thigh is maybe a foot long, which puts him twelve inches away from a drop that would do some serious damage. And it does get windy up there, it really does.  So imagine how terrified I was, holding on for dear life and then having my son perched on the edge of the precipice next to me. I managed to wedge my ski poles in front of him but I can't think they'd really do much but slow any descent, maybe serve only to stab him on the way down.

Yeah, I know, tough life when your biggest problem is with the ski lifts at Park City, Utah.

But it did make me wonder, because you have to agree we live in a pretty litigious society these days. Being a former civil lawyer, I can attest to that, people sue for anything and everything. It's like a sport.

So tell me if I'm nuts, but I genuinely couldn't understand why so many lifts there didn't have safety bars. Ironically, the resort requires kids to wear helmets before they let them have ski lessons.

"Put on your helmet, boy, now go jump off a cliff. You'll be fine."

I suppose I'm wondering whether I'm overreacting because of my own fear of heights, or whether other people think that all lifts should have safety bars. I know the resort owners don't wanna, it costs money, and I just found a wonderfully disingenuous article in the Seattle Times on the subject.

The story is about a four-year-old boy who fell off a lift, and is titled,

Another child falls from Utah chair lift

Which I'm glad I didn't see before I left, for obvious reasons.  Anyway, it starts this way:

"A young skier who fell from a Utah lift was riding a chair that had a safety bar, proving the device isn't fail-safe and may even have its drawbacks, ski resort executives said."

Which makes me an idiot, right? Yes, until you read on a little bit: "The boy was with a ski instructor and another young child near the top of the lift, getting ready to push off the chair when he slipped."

Which means the safety bar wasn't down. Duh.

If you're a skier, or if not, let me know if you have an opinion on this. I'll only add that, even if somehow safety bars aren't worth their weight, they make my experience so much more pleasurable. It's not fun to spend fifteen minutes thinking you and your wee laddie are about to go splat, it severely undermines the enjoyment of the ski experience. Believe it or not, for this reason alone I'd probably avoid going back to Park City. Is that silly?

I'll say one thing for the place, though, the pizza slices were as delicious as they were huge.



  2. OMFG--they don't have BARS?????!!!!!! No. I could not deal with that, even without my child next to me. But, in the interest of full disclosure, this is coming from a woman who on her one roller coaster ride so far as a parent was not fully satisfied with the safety bar mechanism on that, and so felt the need to twist-tie an arm around my child and through the safety bar in a manner that left some fascinating bruises on my arm and two fingers the next day.

  3. Anon: thanks, that's just crazy.

    Elizabeth: I don't blame you at all. I think we'll head to Colorado next time, if I remember rightly that have lots more safety bars. And softer snow. :)

  4. It's been years since I went skiing, but when I went with some regularity I only recall one lift with safety bars. And I recall a kid on a church ski trip who intentionally jumped off (not 50 feet up, of course) and got banned from the mountain for it. That said, if a kid is too young for you to feel confident they'll avoid taking the plunge, perhaps some soul searching is in order regarding whether it's the resort's fault or the person who brought them. The Utah article mentioned a four-year old girl who fell - she'd just slide right under a "safety bar," no problem. Short of installing gondolas, there's no substitute in that situation for a bit of maturity and common sense, and only a parent can judge whether their child possesses those or not.

  5. Fair points, Grits, but I think it's more about physics than maturity. Other than the absolute baby lift (where you stand on the moving track) the chair lifts are the only option for skiing. And I don't think anyone would seriously suggest a kid needs to wait until he's ten or twelve to learn to ski. Can't think the resorts would like that too much, either, come to think of it.

    Which leaves any parent with few options. Not ski, of course, but... that's sucky. Otherwise, be fifty feet high and perched on the edge of a chair lift (remember the little legs thing). I don't know, it just seems like not a huge deal to install them, and especially since they've done so on more than half of the lifts there.

    The other issue, and maybe I'm being selfish here, is that it just makes the experience more pleasurable. As someone with a fear of heights there's no chance in hell I'm falling off (you should see me gripping on for dear life) but the lack of a safety bar diminishes my enjoyment of the sport and, as I said before, means I'll be looking to ski at resorts that do have them.


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