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Vail chairlift attendant wasn’t paying attention during skier’s suffocation, report says

Jason Varnish, 46, died of positional asphyxia at Vail Mountain’s Blue Sky Basin area Feb. 13, the Eagle County coroner said

Skiers make tracks at Vail Mountain on December 18, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

VAIL — A Colorado ski lift operator was not paying attention when a New Jersey man suffocated after his coat got caught on the lift and kept him from breathing, authorities said in a report.

Jason Varnish, 46, died of positional asphyxia at Vail Mountain’s Blue Sky Basin area Feb. 13, the Eagle County coroner said.

Varnish had been skiing with a friend. The men were attempting to board a chairlift when Varnish’s clothing caught on a rubber stopper on the seat, an Eagle County Sheriff’s Office incident report released Wednesday said.

Varnish was lifted 20 to 25 feet (6.1 to 7.6 meters) off the ground, the report said, adding that Varnish’s companion “hollered to the lift operator to stop the lift.”

“The lift operator was not paying attention and had been cleaning off snow in the area,” the report said.

“Jason was struggling, trying to get unhooked and getting his coat unzipped,” the report said.

Resort guests tried unsuccessfully to form a human pyramid to push up Varnish’s legs and feet, the report said, noting the operator initially said he could not reverse the lift without permission.

The death was ruled an accident.

Vail Resorts Inc. did not immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.

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