Jason Varnish of New Jersey died Thursday of positional asphyxia at Blue Sky Basin section of the Vail Ski Resort, according to the Eagle County Coroner. Varnish’s death was ruled an accident.
“We are still investigating how this whole situation happened. According to our initial investigation, the deceased slipped through the seat of the chair lift and his ski coat got caught up in the chair,” coroner Kara Bettis told Vail Daily last week. Bettis said the chairlift’s folding seat was left in the upright position which created a gap when Varnish went to sit down and his coat got caught around his head and neck area, cutting off his airway. Eyewitnesses told local news outlets ski patrol performed CPR on the 46-year-old skier who was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Additional details about Varnish weren’t immediately available and relatives were unable to be reached following his death.
“They should’ve just hit the stop button, there’s an emergency stop and there’s a slow stop and if they’re doing their job they could hit the slow stop before the guests are loading,” Joseph Bloch, a Colorado attorney who litigates ski incidents, told Denver’s ABC 7.
Vail Resorts closed the area at Chairlift 37 for the day following the incident, but in a statement defended its lifts as having been inspected and properly functioning at the time of the incident.
“Vail Mountain and the entire Vail Resorts family express our sincere condolences and extend our support to the guest’s family and friends,” Vail Resorts CEO Beth Howard said in a statement.
The National Ski Areas Association, a ski resort trade group, said in a 2017 industry paper that deaths on chairlifts because of mechanical malfunction are rare. Kelly Huber, a 40-year-old Texas woman, was killed after being thrown from a ski lift at Colorado’s Granby Ranch resort in 2016 because of a malfunction with the lift’s mechanical drive. Lift injuries caused by other nonmechanical issues are more common, including one from 2017 where a skier’s backpack was caught by a chairlift at Arapahoe Basin and he was dragged back down the hill hanging by his neck and unconscious before he was cut down and rescued.