The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission is honoring a Golden man for saving the life of a skier who almost died after he became stuck hanging from a ski lift at Arapahoe Basin ski area in 2017.
The commission awards the Carnegie Medal to civilians who risk serious injury or death to save others. This quarter, they have named 16 people, including Mickey Wilson, a 28-year-old ski instructor and professional slackliner.
On Jan. 4, 2017, Wilson went to Arapahoe Basin for a solo day, but ended up running into two old friends and one of their friends, whom Wilson did not know. That man was Richard Rattenbury, 30. When they reached a three-person lift, Rattenbury insisted the trio go together and he go alone so they could catch up, Wilson told Denver7 in a 2017 interview.
'Hero' who saved man at A-Basin recounts rescue
The group hopped on the lift and headed up the mountain.
As it neared the top and Rattenbury tried to dismount, his backpack became tangled in the chair. The lift continued, turning to head back downhill with Rattenbury still stuck. Before the lift was stopped, the backpack's chest strap had started to choke him and he lost consciousness. He was about 10 feet above the ground.
“And this guy is a really advanced skier, you know, he knows what he’s doing," Wilson said in 2017. "It was just bad luck in a lot of ways. And by the time we got there, it had been probably a minute since he had been entangled. He was already unconscious and had stopped battling to be free. He was hanging lifelessly. And then we start to go up to him and the enormity of the situation hadn’t hit yet, but then one of my friends started yelling, 'He’s choking, he’s choking, he’s choking!'"
Wilson said panic settled in as he realized this was a life or death situation.
“The lift operator had come to help us, so there was four of us," he remembered. "We tried to make a human pyramid with the lift operator on top to get to him, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t get to him. Couldn’t get him off or anything."
The lift operator said they couldn't reverse the lift. Ski patrol was on the way, but not there yet.
“So I look up at him," Wilson said. "I look at where he’s stuck in relation to the tower. I realize that with my slacklining background — because that’s my full-time profession, I’m a professional slackliner — I balance for a living."
He knew what to do.
Despite an injury on his right hand, Wilson climbed a ladder up a nearby tower for the ski lift, straddled the two-inch steel cable and pulled himself 30 feet to Rattenbury's seat. He was able to swing his body down to the seat and tried to free the plastic backpack buckle that had become caught in the chair. A ski patroller below tossed Wilson a knife, which he caught on the first try and used to cut the strap.
Rattenbury dropped the 10 feet to the ski patrol team below, and they performed CPR on him and brought him via toboggan to a waiting ambulance.
“And I collapse in the chair realizing there’s nothing more I can do," Wilson remembered. "And literally the first thing I thought to myself — it sounds weird — but I said, 'Thank God I’m a slackliner and I was able to apply my slackline balance skills to this crazy situation.'"
Ultimately, Rattenbury had a broken rib and was hospitalized overnight. He was released the following day and made a full recovery.
Wilson was not injured and rode the ski lift down to the mountain's base.
Wilson, along with the 15 others honored with the Carnegie award, will receive the Carnegie Medal, which is the highest honor for civilian heroism in North America. Including this group, 10,371 people have been awarded with the medal, which comes with a financial grant, since 1904.
Six of the 16 people named this quarter died in their efforts, including three teachers who drowned trying to save children in deep water.
Jewels Phraner, communications director with the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, said the awards were announced Monday. The medals, which include the hero's name and details of their actions, take two to three months in production.