From the Editorial Advisory Board: Eldora safety

The day of the accident was the first day of my 7-year-old daughter‘s six-week ski lessons in Eldora‘s Treks program. Both of my kids are graduates of their Eldorables program, which does a good job of teaching them to ride lifts, so they‘ve been riding with other kids for a couple of years now. I don‘t know if my daughter saw the accident or the aftermath but since then my daughter has refused to ride a lift without me. This means she would no longer attend the following five weeks of lessons we pre-paid for in September. Nonetheless, I did not sign the petition fellow parents circulated.

Most of the asks are reasonable, but a few are not. For example, requiring an adult to ride the lift with every kid under the age of 6 or 48 inches tall will mean the classes will have to be even smaller and more expensive. If this is done by a volunteer, it will take a group an enormous amount of time to get up the mountain. My kids did this safely without adults at age 5. Also, demanding that parents be able to ride with their child (free of charge) is a form of helicopter parenting. Kids don‘t focus on their class or listen to their instructor when their parents are monitoring their every move.

Last Sunday, I took both of my kids there to rebuild my daughter‘s confidence about riding lifts. I was impressed that there were two lift operators at the bottom talking to and coaching each kid about getting on the lift. We did 10 runs and operators did that each time. On the receiving end there was another operator who was watching closely and when necessary, coaching them off. I‘m happy with the steps they‘ve taken so far, and I look forward to the possibility of safety bars.

When my daughter was 6 years old, I experienced Eldora‘s lackadaisical attitude toward students in its ski school. My daughter was in a half-day ski lesson, and I went to go pick her up at noon at the school. She wasn‘t there when I arrived at the school, and no one seemed to have any idea where she was. This was in the pre-cell phone era, so I tensely waited for the last bus to unload and realized that my daughter was not on the bus. An Eldora supervisor called around to the other instructors on the hill and finally, after many agonizing minutes, I was told that she had been picked up at the ski hill by a “man” who said he knew her. I lost it. It turned out that the man was our friend‘s 17-year-old son, and he and my daughter were in the chalet having lunch. Whew! But no thanks to Eldora. That was the last time I let her go to Eldora ski school.

Most of us in Colorado accept the fact that when we ski we are on our own in terms of risk of injury or even death, but small children are too young to make that decision for themselves. Eldora holds itself out to the parents as a place that will be responsible stewards of the children in its care, and parents rely on that assurance.

An organization that caters to young children should have basic policies in place to minimize that risk. This should include safety bars on chair lifts; alert, well-trained lift operators who are paid a living wage, and an older person — a teen or adult — should accompany all children 6 and younger. None of these practices are difficult or overly expensive. The parents are not asking for Eldora to do anything more than other ski resorts are already doing.

Statistics tell us that ski lifts, even those without safety bars, are extremely safe. However, this is no comfort for the family of the little girl who fell, nor for the parents who are petitioning Eldora to modify their operating procedures.

The petitioners‘ list of demands begins by acknowledging that children undergo some level of risk while skiing. This is an excellent start, but exactly how much risk is tolerable? Can it be quantified, or is it mostly driven by fear because of one accident? It‘s difficult to not go back to statistics to make an informed decision. For example, if more people are killed on elevators than on chairlifts, should kids be taking the hotel stairs? What about the perils of driving to the resort in the first place? Even more specifically, how many people have fallen from Eldora lifts over the last 30 years compared to the number of people who have ridden them? I‘m betting that the quantifiable risks are so extremely small that it would be hard to find a safer activity to engage in (if you ignore collisions and hitting trees).

Basically, the petition reads: “Eldora, we feel that our children are in mortal danger at your facility, yet we insist on sending them there anyway. By the way, we need free lift passes.” Obviously, a much more effective petition would be to simply patronize different ski areas. Or, perhaps switching to virtual-reality ski games or snowshoeing would work for someone who feels that ski lifts are exceedingly unsafe.

With this said, it sounds like most of Eldora‘s problems would disappear if the employees were simply better engaged. This is a problem easily solved by firing the slackers that are standing around blasting Megadeath from their earbuds and sipping spiced wine from their bota bags.

Trying to hang on while slipping out of a chairlift at Eldora and then falling 30 feet must have been very frightening, especially to a 6-year-old. Let‘s all hope the child makes a swift and full recovery.

In the meantime, a group of “passionate parents and caretakers” have formed “Parents for a Safe Eldora” and posted an online petition to pressure Eldora to make changes, because “current lift policy and day-to-day practices place our children at unreasonable and unnecessary risk.” Eldora appears to be taking the incident seriously, and in (March 12, Daily Camera), Brent Tregaskis, Eldora‘s president and general manager, stressed Eldora‘s focus on safety. But he also went a step further by using facts to show how rare such an incident is in Colorado (“600 million chairlift rides completed in Colorado in the last five years, approximately 0.000000135 percent have resulted in a fall”). So, how is riding a chairlift an unreasonable and unnecessary risk?

Boulderites living the Boulder Way seem to harbor the expectation that nothing bad is ever supposed to happen to us. When something goes amiss, our response is usually to institute a ban or impose regulations. Online petitions seem very similar — we can express our outrage; feel like we are addressing the problem; but, not actually expend any effort or resources.

We are lucky to have Eldora in our backyard. It has every incentive to stay on top of the issue, minimize risks (but still allow skiing) and be a good neighbor. Another aspect of the Boulder Way is to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, which starts on our door steps. Our enjoyment is not limited by the seasons. We just change activities and gear up and keep ongoing. We need to remember that such activities cannot be undertaken without risk. Risks can be minimized, but not eliminated.

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