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Hero skier saves the day in mid-week drama at Whistler

Whistler regular Debbi Cottrell held on to a young skier who slipped from Crystal Ridge Express—and dangled for more than five minutes.
A seven-year-old skier was uninjured after falling from a Whistler Blackcomb chairlift last week.

The seven-year-old ski-school student who fell 40 feet from Crystal Ridge Express last Thursday took a bit of convincing to let go and fall to the safety of a trampoline below, according to the skier who had to hold on to him for more than five minutes.

West Vancouver resident and Whistler regular, Debbi Cottrell, was the skier who saved the day.

She explained the boy did not quite get settled on the chair when getting on, and started to slip, forcing her to grab hold of him and staff to stop the chairlift when they were past the first pylon—and 40 feet in the air.

“He was terrified, especially when he saw the trampoline,” Cottrell said.

“Initially we all thought maybe they’d run the chair backwards and have people disembark … but once we knew that wasn’t happening, that’s when he really started to panic.”

Cottrell was skiing with her husband, and the couple were waiting in line at Crystal Ridge Express when they were asked to make room for two young students they didn’t know.

“They were put with us just at the very end, just as we were going through the gate. We were set to go just the two of us, and then they sent two kids with us, so we shuffled over,” Cottrell said.

“We were a little bit discombobulated getting onto the chair, so we got on, and the child that fell was the one that was against the edge. There was a child between he and I, and we were getting ourselves organized and we looked over and we saw that he wasn’t quite on.”

The chair didn’t get far up the mountain before it all went wrong and the boy slipped, forcing a quick-thinking Cottrell to reach over the other student with her left arm and grab him.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t even get a chance to get the bar down before this started to happen,” she said, adding the awkward angle of having to hold onto the boy without having a safety bar to grasp made it impossible for her to lift him back into his seat, as she had to use her right arm to hold on to the back of the chair.

“The fact that we didn’t have the bar down, both myself reaching the boy and the other child between us, we were both at risk of slipping ourselves, because we just didn’t have anything to hold against,” she explained.

“Once they stopped the lift and [Whistler Blackcomb staff] started running up with the trampoline, he panicked a bit—he said, ‘I’m not jumping, I’m not jumping’—and we talked him into it,” Cottrell said.

“He said OK, I’ll jump—he dropped his poles, dropped his skis, and we counted and I released him.”

Cottrell said the incident would have been about five minutes, but “it felt like forever” while WB staff brought up a trampoline to catch him.

She said it was a harrowing experience for everyone on the chairlift.

“We had just skied with our two-year-old granddaughter two days before on Magic Chair—I’m glad I hadn’t had this experience first, because I don’t think I could have done it,” she said.

The story ended peacefully, though.

“He fell, and before they even started the lift up again we could see that he was OK,” said Cottrell.

“It all turned out great, and we heard he went back up to ski, which I think is amazing.”

A spokesperson for Whistler Blackcomb confirmed to Pique that the young student was uninjured in the incident.

"Resort staff and guests successfully deployed a deceleration device to catch the guest. The guest was evaluated by Patrol at the scene and returned to skiing," they said.  

"Our gratitude goes out to our operators and guests, whose quick reactions allowed for this favourable outcome."