Sunday, April 20, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Chairlift safety program honors Davis boy’s memory

By
From page A1 | January 16, 2013 | Leave Comment

Family, friends and classmates release balloons on Dec. 20, 2012, in celebration of John's life. Courtesy photo

When 7-year-old John Henderson died last year after falling from a chairlift at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, his family and friends mourned the North Davis Elementary School second-grader who aspired to be an inventor, appreciated books as much as he did sports, and who loved to tell a good joke.

Before long, John’s parents, UC Davis Medical Center physicians Mark Henderson and Helen Chew, channeled their grief into action, partnering with Sugar Bowl officials to create a comprehensive chairlift safety program aimed at protecting other young skiers.

Called the John Henderson Chairlift Safety Initiative, the 13-step program seeks to reduce the risk of lift accidents through measures such as cameras that monitor chairlift loading practices, seat targets and a mandatory restraining-bar lowering policy for children under 51 inches tall.

“After John died, we tried to figure out if there were contributing factors, and if something could have been done to prevent it,” Henderson said in a recent interview. “We hoped to make some type of enduring change so this type of tragedy didn’t happen to someone else.”

John, who had been skiing since the age of 4, was in his second year as a member of the Sugar Bowl ski team when he fell from the Mt. Lincoln Express chairlift on the morning of Dec. 18, 2011. An investigation into what caused the fall proved inconclusive due to few direct eyewitnesses and conflicting accounts, according to the Sugar Bowl website.

However, the probe did reveal that the lift’s safety bar had not been lowered for John and two other young ski-team members before they began their ascent, nor were they accompanied by an adult.

While investigators found no evidence of foul play or horseplay, “ultimately, our safety practices were insufficient to prevent this tragedy,” the website says. John died at a Reno hospital two days after the fall.

Some family and friends advised Chew and Henderson to take legal action against the resort, but “it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do,” Chew said. “We wanted to, if possible, do something positive in John’s memory.”

“I’m not sure what a lawsuit would accomplish,” Henderson added.

By joining forces with Sugar Bowl, the couple said, they’ve ensured that the resort has improved policies in place that will be taught to all employees and shared with other ski resorts across the country.

“We were more than willing to work with them, and honored that they wanted to work with us to take this tragedy and make something positive out of it,” said Nicole Lieberman, director of risk management at Sugar Bowl, who worked closely with Henderson and Chew during the past year to create the initiative. “It’s really quite amazing that a family that’s gone through something like that would reach out.”

Lieberman said while the resort has always followed American National Standards Institute guidelines regarding chairlift safety practices, “this is a more specific and detailed policy.”

The chairlift safety initiative appears on the Sugar Bowl website, www.sugarbowl.com, accompanied by a picture of John smiling as he rides a lift, rays of sunlight peeking through the pine trees behind him. Some highlights of the program include:

* Installation of web-based cameras at the Mt. Lincoln and Christmas Tree chairlifts — and eventually at all lifts — to monitor loading processes, lift operator practices and skier conduct. Henderson and Chew said this suggestion arose from their own work in the medical field, where cameras are used to monitor patients or videotape medical students as they learn to interview patients.

“There is technology that can not only detect a problem, but also train people to do their jobs and improve the process,” Henderson said.

* Seat targets on the Nob Hill, Christmas Tree and White Pine chairlifts — and on all lifts by January 2014 — that guide riders to the proper seating position. The idea was inspired by the “Sit on the Spot” program at Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, which has twice won National Ski Areas Association awards for its chairlift program.

* Mandatory lowering of the chairlift restraining bar for all riders under 51 inches tall, even if they are riding with an adult.

Henderson said the height restriction idea came from Disneyland, where “if you’re below a certain height, you’re not allowed to ride a dangerous ride.” It made sense for the ski slopes as well, he said.

The initiative also addresses training, outreach, student-instructor ratios and incident investigation practices. Lieberman, who described the ski industry as a close-knit community, said other resorts are paying attention to the changes.

“They’re looking at what we’re doing and what portions of it will work for them,” she said.

Meanwhile, there are lasting tributes to John in Davis as well. Last spring, the North Davis Elementary campus unveiled a tile memorial created in his honor, and classmates planted a red oak tree on a greenbelt near his family’s home.

This past Dec. 20, John’s family, friends and classmates gathered for a celebration of his life, releasing bouquets of blue and green balloons into the sky.

Chew said the family has skied at Sugar Bowl several times since John’s death, taking along their 17-year-old son Paul, who also enjoys the sport.

“It was incredibly difficult,” Chew said. “But this was a place that John loved, and while it was very hard and painful, we wanted to keep that in mind.”

— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

UCD admits record number; 4,284 from abroad

By Cory Golden | From Page: A1

 
Hub of activity: DHS newspaper keeps evolving

By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A1 | Gallery

A springtime ritual

By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Tom Adams seeks Davis school board seat

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

Holy fire ceremony draws thousands in Jerusalem

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
Tour renovated YCCC facility Thursday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Tour Davis Waldorf School on Wednesday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

The fifth annual Tour de Cluck is soon to be hatched

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Ortiz lawn signs available

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Sign up soon for spring cooking classes

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Robb Davis team to rally on Saturday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Steadfast in their support

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Yolo Hospice offers free grief workshops

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Sign up for Camp Kesem caterpillar crawl

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Quilters gear up for annual show

By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A4

League hosts a series of candidate forums

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
KDVS launches fund drive on Monday

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A5

Calling all Scrabble fans

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Hub webpage is seeing traffic increasing

By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A8

Lescroart welcomes all to book-launch party

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16 | Gallery

 
DEVO set to serve up 14th annual Winkler Dinner

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16 | Gallery

Learn Chinese crafts at I-House

By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A16

 
Preschool open house set at Davis Waldorf

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

Birch Lane celebrates its 50th anniversary

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

 
Hotel/conference center info meeting set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

.

Forum

Take ownership of your health

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

 
Keep your baby safe

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

Reliving the agony and ecstasy of spring

By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

 
Road diet? No, city diet!

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 2 Comments

 
We’re reveling in our equality

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

Vote no; it’s fiscally responsible

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

 
Rick McKee cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

 
Core values on campus

By Our View | From Page: A12

 
Bill is an affront to UC Davis ag biotech and local farmers

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13

Don’t want to sit in Fix 50 traffic? Consider alternatives

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

 
UCD softball shut out by Santa Barbara

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Aggie men shoot 9-under, lead own tourney

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Stars shine in Woody Wilson Classic

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Devils burn up the track

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
UCD roundup: Aggie baseball swept away by Highlanders

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

A’s score 3 in ninth, rally past Astros 4-3

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
.

Features

.

Arts

.

Business

Yolo Federal Credit Union gets WISH funds

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
PG&E pays taxes, fees to county, cities

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

Will Davis get an Old Soul?

By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9

 
Pediatricians, nurse practitioner hired at Woodland Healthcare

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Asian stocks mostly higher after mixed U.S. earnings

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Davis Roots will showcase its graduating startups

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14

University Honda wins another President’s Award

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

 
Dutch Bros. raises $19,000 for girl with leukemia

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Sunday, April 20, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B8