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Coroner says man's death on Vail chairlift was accidental, caused by clothing caught on lift

Posted at 3:46 PM, Feb 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-24 17:46:39-05

VAIL, Colo. – The New Jersey man who died on a chairlift in Vail’s Blue Sky Basin earlier this month did not fall through the chair but suffered asphyxiation when his coat got wrapped around him, the Eagle County Coroner’s Office said Monday.

Jason Varnish, 46, of New Jersey, died Feb. 13 after the accident on the chairlift. Vail Resorts and the county coroner’s office said previously that the seat on chair 37 on the lift was in the upright position when Varnish tried to get on the lift but that his coat got caught when he slipped through.

The coroner’s office said Monday that the investigation into Varnish’s death continues, but Coroner Kara Bettis said that Varnish did not fall through the chair after all and that his death had been ruled an accident.

“Varnish died of positional asphyxia when he became entangled by his clothing that appears to have been caught on a portion of the chairlift,” the coroner’s office said in a statement. “He was unable to breathe due to his coat and tight clothing around his chest and abdominal region. The death has been ruled accidental.”

A spokesperson with Vail Resorts said the lift involved had been thoroughly inspected and was operating normally.

"Vail Mountain and the entire Vail Resorts family express our sincere condolences and extend our support to the guest’s family and friends,” said Chief Operating Office Beth Howard.

The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board said previously they would consider information from Vail’s investigation to determine whether further investigation or actions would be necessary.

"The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board (CPTSB) was alerted to the fatality on Vail Mountain on Thursday, Feb. 14. Preliminary information provided by the area suggests there was no lift malfunction or evidence of unsafe operation of the lift; however, any loss of life associated with Colorado ski areas is of concern to CPTSB," spokesperson Lee Rasizer said in a statement. "The Board will consider additional information as Vail completes its investigation in determining whether further action is warranted."