Chairlift Malfunction in Montana Throws Toddler Off Chairlift to Slope 15-Feet Below

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Nathan McLeod lowered himself down off the mangled chair to check on his son. Credit: Supplied to The Missoulian

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare—their child slipping from their fingers while on a chairlift and falling to the slopes below. 

This very thing happened to Nathan McLeod on Sunday, 19th March 2023, at Montana Snowbowl, just north of Missoula, MT. A chairlift malfunction caused the chair carrying him and his four-year-old son to violently hit the first tower, throwing the toddler from his seat.

“This is a parent’s worst nightmare. I’m just watching him fall and he’s looking at me. There’s nothing I can do and he’s screaming. I just have this mental image of his whole body slipping out of my arms and it’s terrible.”

– Nathan McLeod told The Missoulian

At the moment of impact, McLeod reached for his son but was too late. He slipped from his arms and fell 15 feet to the slopes below.

The pair, along with his six-year-old son a chair ahead, were riding the Snow Park chairlift, a lift bought second-hand from a Colorado Resort in 2019. As soon as the liftie helped him and his sons load, the father was concerned about how much the chairs were swinging. In fact, he was more concerned about his son on the chair ahead when it was his chair that hit the tower. Upon impact, as well as throwing the little boy from his seat, the chair disintegrated and breaks apart, leaving the father hanging there without a backrest and just the center pole.

The liftie halted the lift and went to the aid of the boy who had fallen from the chair. Thankfully, he was ok.

McLeod senior, so concerned for his son’s wellbeing, threw off his skis and lowered himself down from the mangled chair, dropping to the slope below before running to his child who was with the liftie.

In his interview with The Missoulian, Mcleod complained about the lackluster attitude of the liftie, patrollers, and public waiting in line. Brushing the incident off as “ha, this is funny, like Snowbowl’s a sh– show,” didn’t sit well with him, having almost just lost his son. McLeod noted that Snowbowl is notorious for chairlift incidents.

A full investigation has been promised, but an engineer who designed and inspected the lift said, “…there was an unbalanced load that caused the lift to swing.”

The ski area has closed the lift, at the request of Lolo National Forest, pending the results of the investigation.

According to Wikipedia, Montana Snowbowl is an alpine ski area in the western United States, located in the Lolo National Forest of western Montana, twelve miles (20 km) northwest of Missoula. It is known for long expert runs such as West Bowl and its throwback operations; there is no significant base development, and its two lifts are vintage Riblet double chairs; the access road is significantly improved as of 2011 but still unpaved.

Montana Snowbowl is also known for its steep runs and a 2,600-foot (790 m) vertical rise. The Grizzly Chair ascends 2,000 feet (610 m) from the base area, and the midmountain LaVelle Creek Chair tops out at 7,600 feet (2,315 m) below Point Six summit. When the resort first opened in December 1962, it was promoted as having the most vertical in the Pacific Northwest.

Montana Snowbowl trail map.

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