Dad endures ‘worst nightmare’ after watching 4-year-old son fall from ski lift
Nathan McLeod endured “a parent’s worst nightmare” when his 4-year-old son fell from a faulty ski lift at the Montana Snowbowl resort on Sunday. They were sitting on the same chairlift when the father said he hit one of the towers and his son Sawyer was thrown off.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” McLeod told the Missoulian on Friday. “I just watch him fall, and he watches me. I can’t do anything and he screams. I just have this mental image of his whole body slipping out of my arms, and it’s terrible.
McLeod told the outlet that his other son, Cassidy, 6, rode in a chair in front with a snowboarder as he and Sawyer boarded the next lift. McLeod was alarmed when he saw Cassidy’s chair make “huge, violent swings” as the second round approached.
“I fear he will hit the next tower,” McLeod told The Missoulian. “And it’s 40 feet off the ground at the time. As it goes through my head, all of a sudden our chair crashes into the tower, first, as it starts to go up .
“And just like that,” he continued, “I reach out for my son, and he just slips out of my arms.”
Sawyer survived the fall, which McLeod estimated at 12 to 15 feet. The boy would have faced a steeper fall of 40 feet if his chair had reached the second tower. Once the elevator stopped, things only seemed to get worse for McLeod.
“I scream like ‘someone help us’ and the elevator stops seconds later,” he told The Missoulian. “But at the same time, as Sawyer falls, the lift chair breaks, and he just flips backwards…so I’m holding on to the center bar as the chair rocks.”
“My son is screaming and I don’t know what to do,” he continued. “I’m like, ‘Am I jumping now? “”
McLeod said he saw an elevator attendant rush up to Sawyer and kiss him. She reportedly provided “zero communication” to the boy’s father by taking Sawyer back to the elevator terminal – when McLeod decided to take off his skis and jump out of the chair.
He said he ran to his son when the attendant told him to “be careful” as they were about to restart the elevator. McLeod was furious when attendants began “loading the following people in line,” someone reportedly said, “Yeah, it’s Snowbowl, haha.”
Andy Morris, whose family owns the station, told the Missoulian that the elevator has since been inspected and “there was an unbalanced load that caused the elevator to wobble.” He said Riblet lifts like these “swing pretty badly when loaded badly.”
Since the station is part of the Lolo National Forest, the land management agency closed it pending an investigation. This is not Snowbowl’s first accident, as dozens of passengers were reportedly evacuated after a 2020 malfunction.
“What other chairs are deficient and just painted, who knows?” McLeod said. “My concern is that we were very lucky. If the conditions had been different, Sawyer could have been killed. If nothing changes, will anyone die?