This incredible high-wire rescue at Arapahoe Basin shows the dangers of backpacks on chairlifts

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How’s this for worst nightmare material?

Mickey Wilson and his skiing crew were getting ready to dismount from the Lenawee Mountain chairlift at the Arapahoe Basin resort just after 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Then one of the other riders’ backpack straps got stuck in the chair in front of Wilson.

The lift “dragged him back down the hill,” apparently missing the emergency shutoff trigger, as Wilson wrote in an account confirmed by the resort. By the time the lift came to a stop, the “backpack had wrapped around his neck and he was unconscious, dangling 10 feet above the snow.”

Wilson, of Gold, said he and his friends desperately tried different ways to reach the hanging man, including a human pyramid in the deep powder, while ski patrol made its way to the scene. Nothing worked.

“Panic was becoming terror as we realized we were about to watch our friend die in front of our helpless eyes,” he recalled on Instagram.

Wilson, we should mention, is a professional slackliner – a tight-rope walker, in other words. Here’s how the resort describes what he did next: “A guest gained access to the chair and cut the backpack strap of the skier.”

The more dramatic version is that Wilson climbed a lift tower and slid his way down the chairlift cable.

“It was second nature, just like being on a slackline only way colder and made of steel,” he wrote. From there he lowered himself onto the chair, where a ski patroller was able to throw him a knife. He cut the strap and the dangling man fell several feet to the ground.

According to the resort, ski patrollers “and a paramedic began administering emergency care at the scene, and the guest was transported to the base area where he was loaded into a waiting ambulance.”

The fallen man was hospitalized at St. Anthony Hospital. Wilson told The Denver Post that he appeared to be in fair health when they spoke via Facetime on Wednesday night.

The lift is open to the public and did not malfunction, according to a resort spokeswoman.

Today I saved someone's life. I think some strange forces were at work. I planned to ski by myself today. As fate had it though, some good friends ended up recognizing me despite my ski gear, and we joined forces for an epic pow day. Again, fate intervened. One of our crew got his backpack strap stuck in the chairlift as he tried to unload and the lift dragged him back down the hill. We were on the chair lift behind so we unloaded and ran down the hill to help him when we realized the worst possible thing had happened. The backpack had wrapped around his neck and he was unconscious, dangling 10 feet above the snow. Panic set in and we struggled in vain for about a minute to build a human pyramid to get to him but the powder was too deep and we toppled over. I yelled at the lift operator asking if the lift ran in reverse and he cried no. Ski patrol was on their way but not there yet. Panic was becoming terror as we realized we were about to watch our friend die in front of our helpless eyes. Then I had a eureka moment. I realized I could climb the lift tower above the chair and climb onto the cable and shimmy down to him. I knew my slackline experience prepared me perfectly for this so I burst into action. I climbed the tower and slid down to the the chair. It was second nature, just like being on a slackline only way colder and made of steel. I climbed down the chair and I first tried to break the strap by kicking it but I couldn't. A newly arrived ski patrolman threw me a knife and I luckily caught it on the first try and cut the strap. Our friend fell like a doll into the snow. 8 or so ski patrolman then began CPR. Thankfully they were able to restore his breathing, ski him down to the base, and get him into an ambulance which rushed him to the hospital in Denver. I'd like to take this moment now to thank the #slacklife for the skills it has given me. It was incredibly fortunate I was there and able to act quickly. I'd also like to thank ski patrol for their strong work reviving our friend. I just got an update from the hospital and he's doing quite well and will be released tomorrow! #thankful #lovelife #rightplacerighttime

A post shared by Mickey Wilson (@mickeywilsonslacker) on

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.