Aspen skier accused of tossing snowboarder off chairlift

Aspen Highlands in 2012.

Aspen Highlands in 2012. (AP Photo/The Aspen Daily News, Janet Urquhart)

A snowboarder at Colorado’s Aspen Highlands resort said he wasn’t really sure why a skier tossed him off a chairlift Sunday, sending him face-first into a pile of snow nearly 25 feet below.

“I honestly thought I was dead,” Seth Beckton told the Aspen Times after his fall. Remarkably, he said he wasn’t hurt.

It apparently started with a comment Beckton made about the powder that day. He said the unnamed skier seemed to take offense, asking him, “Are you laughting at me?”

Beckton replied, “kind of… yes?”

That’s when he said the skier either pushed or pulled him from the chair, saying, “Well is this funny?”

Beckton, 28, claims the skier was wearing a silver helmet and goggles obscuring his face, along with a burgundy and tan jacket with grey pants.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office was investigating, Deputy Alex Burchetta told the Times. He said Beckton should file a report.

Skiers and snowboarders often don’t see eye to eye, but one skier with a serious chip on his shoulder took things to an entirely new level Sunday at Aspen Highlands.

The skier, a white man in his late 20s or early 30s, took offense to a seemingly innocuous comment by a snowboarder sitting next to him, and threw the man off the Loge Peak chairlift, said Seth Beckton of Aspen, the snowboarder who was pushed.

Beckton said he fell face-first 20 to 25 feet to the ground, but fortunately landed in a “large pocket of snow” and was not injured.

“I honestly thought I was dead,” Beckton said. “Because I didn’t know where we were (within the lift path). It’s not cool to think anyone would do that.”

The incident occurred at about 9:30 a.m., though Beckton, 28, did not report it until the end of the day. He said he was initially shaken by the incident and in a bit of shock, but since he wasn’t injured, he decided not to let it ruin his powder day.

It wasn’t until he told a couple friends what happened that he said he realized how serious the incident was.

“I should have been more aggressive in reporting it,” Beckton said Monday. “What if he does it to somebody else?”

Jeff Hanle, spokesman for Aspen Skiing Co., said Monday that if the incident had been reported earlier, ski patrol and other officials would have had a better chance of finding the skier. Still, the company plans a full investigation and will try to find witnesses and track down the skier, he said.

“This is not the kind of behavior we want on our mountain,” Hanle said. “We will do our best to find the person.”

Hanle said he spoke to Beckton on Monday and had no doubt the incident occurred.

Beckton said he and the skier barely spoke on the way up the mountain, though the man called attention to Beckton’s snowboard when they got on the lift, saying, “Oh, you’re a snowboarder, huh?”

It wasn’t until the top of the lift, at about 9:30 a.m., that the two men began chatting about the 5 to 6 inches of fresh powder on the ground, he said. Beckton said he made a comment about it being easier to get face shots of powder on skis as opposed to a snowboard.

In a Facebook post describing the encounter, Beckton quoted himself as saying, “To get tits-deep pow shots you just need to be on your edges.”

Whatever the comment, Beckton said the skier then turned to him and said, “Are you making fun of me?”

Beckton said he was “taken aback” by the question and wasn’t sure how to interpret it because the man was wearing a helmet and goggles and he couldn’t see his face.

“I thought it was kind of funny,” Beckton said. “I thought he might be joking. I wasn’t trying to offend anyone. I didn’t even think the comment was offensive.”

So, even though he actually hadn’t been making fun of the man, Beckton playfully answered his question and said, “Not really — but maybe.”

“If you think that’s funny,” the skier told him, “do you think this is funny?”

The skier then “grabbed me and pushed and pulled me off the chair,” Beckton said. A third man was riding the same chair, he said, though he didn’t know if the man was a friend of the skier’s or not.

The next thing he knew, Beckton was heading toward the ground in “an out-of-control fall” and somehow landed safely in the cushy powder.

The incident occurred near the lift’s last tower, 50 to 100 feet from the top, he said. He said the lift operator stopped the chair, though it traveled far enough before stopping to allow the skier to get off and disappear.

“I was really shooken up,” he said. “I was like, ‘Was that a joke? Did that really happen?’”

Beckton said he hiked out of the deep snow where he’d fallen and stood out on the ski run waiting to confront the man, but never saw him again.

“Because I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t super-outraged,” he said. “I didn’t want to let it ruin my day. I decided to continue on my way.”

Beckton said he now wishes he’d reported it sooner and given ski patrol an opportunity to find the guy. Hanle said that would have been relatively easy.

The skier was wearing gray pants, a two-toned jacket that was one-third burgundy-colored and two-thirds tan, with an old, silver Giro helmet and older, Smith mirrored goggles, he said. He also thinks the man had facial hair.

“I think the guy was maybe on drugs,” Beckton said. “Maybe he was partying the night before and maybe he was tweaking out on something and he did that.”

Still, he said he’s happy to be in one piece.

“I’m completely fine,” Beckton said. “Fortunately, I was really lucky.”

Deputy Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday his agency is looking into the incident. Deputies are working with officials at Aspen Highlands, who are reviewing video taken at the mountain Sunday, he said.

As of Monday, Beckton had not filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office, Burchetta said. However, considering the gravity of the offense, Burchetta encouraged him to do so.

“I’m not sure ‘egregious’ is the word,” Burchetta said of the incident. “I’ve been skiing since I was 2, and I’ve never heard of anyone being thrown off a ski lift.

“It’s one of those things that stands out in your mind.”

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