AVERY COUNTY, N.C. -- The parents of a minor child are suing Sugar Mountain Resort after they say their son was left stranded on a chairlift in freezing temperatures.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says the minor child was lawfully on the premises of Sugar Mountain Resort on February 14, when the Tennessee residents visited the resort for a day of recreation.
Gunter's Way chairlift
Minor was an intermediate level skier who was trying snowboarding for the first time on Valentine's Day, 2016, the suit says, when he boarded Gunter's Way chairlift alone. That's when, according to documents filed, the lift operator initiated daily closing protocol, including removing the safety gate from the lift, which would automatically stop the lift if a passenger or skier did not disembark at the top.
Because of that, the suit says, the minor went around the bullwheel and began riding back down the mountain.
The minor's chair came to a halt over a heavily wooded area near lift tower 9, some 30 feet in the air, when employees shut down the lift for the evening, leaving the child stranded, according to allegations made in the lawsuit.
It was snowing at the time, with a temperature of about 14 degrees and a windchill of just 8; two hours later, still stranded, after sunset and a pickup in wind speed, the windchill lowered to about 6 degrees.
Meanwhile, the suit alleges the minor's parents reported to Sugar Mountain's staff their son had gone missing, and that the resort staff failed to initiate a proper rescue effort to locate the couple's son, saying the staff was "dismissive" and "speculated the boy wondered off the ski slopes or trails".
Once a rescue effort was launched, the staff failed to search Gunter's Way chairlift, the suit says.
After several hours, the boy began to fear for his life, and in an effort to survive, he jumped from the chairlift, falling 30 feet to the frozen ground below, the family says; the fall fractured the boy's right heel bone and right wrist. He was also rendered unconscious for some time after the fall.
After awaking, the boy climbed about 200 yards out of the heavily wooded area to a service road, then another 300 yards down the Gunter's Way ski run to an area of the park that remained open. He was found by two park visitors who called ski patrol.
The boy was taken to the hospital for treatment where he was found to have suffered significant injuries, including frostbite and an injury to his ankle, which ultimately required surgery and lengthy physical therapy.
The lawsuit seeks a minimum of $75,000 in damages, plus reimbursement for fees related to the case.