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Tree fell on Park City Mountain lift day before ski patroller’s death

Park City Mountain employees in the aftermath of Christian Helger's fall on the Short Cut lift Jan. 2. Helger died of asphyxia after falling headfirst approximately 50 feet into a deep ravine of snow.
A community member provided KPCW with a picture of Park City Mountain employees in the aftermath of Helger's fall on the Short Cut lift.

Park City Mountain employees told state investigators that a tree fell on the Short Cut lift one day before the same thing happened again, this time killing a ski patroller.

Park City Mountain owner Vail Resorts has been fined $2,500 by Utah Occupational Safety and Health for workplace hazards, following the death of 29-year-old ski patroller Christian Helger.

Helger was riding the Short Cut lift on the Canyons Village side of the resort on Jan. 2 when a tree fell on the cable, launching him out of his chair headfirst into a deep ravine of snow roughly 50 feet below.

Fellow ski patrollers dug him out and administered life-saving measures for about 45 minutes, but Helger ultimately died of suffocation.

It snowed several feet in the days before the incident, and employees told investigators the warning signs were there.

Employees said the Short Cut lift had to be stopped twice Jan. 1, the day before Helger’s death, due to hazardous trees.

Short Cut opened late that morning because a tree fell on the cable and had to be cut down, employees said.

Later that afternoon, the lift was put on hold because a tree was hanging a few feet above the cable and had to be cut down, according to a Short Cut lift operator who worked that day.

Lift operators at the resort are required to do a “line ride” every morning before opening to check for hazards. But one ski patroller told an investigator that lift operators are typically younger, newer employees who have “no idea” what to look for.

The patroller said a dozen trees had to be cut down Jan. 1.

A separate ski patroller, who started their career at Park City Mountain as a lift operator, said they were never taught to check for trees while doing a line ride. They also said there’s pressure from management to get lifts open in the morning, and operators are often short on time.

A Short Cut lift operator who witnessed Helger fall said others on the lift were “hanging on for dear life” and that the chairs were bouncing “aggressively.” They said three trees fell in the two days before the incident.

A photo taken after the incident shows piles of tree debris near where Helger fell into the snow.

Utah Occupational Safety and Health

“The Park City Mountain team is deeply saddened by the tragic death of our team member, Christian Helger," said Park City Mountain Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Deirdra Walsh.

"We extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”

A spokesman for Utah Occupational Safety and Health declined to comment, and said Vail Resorts has appealed the citation.

Following Helger’s death, the Short Cut lift closed for the remainder of the season.

John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, said the Passenger Ropeway Safety Committee, which governs ski resort lifts across the state, has been told that Park City Mountain plans to operate Short Cut next winter.