Nathan McLeod endured “a parent’s worst nightmare” when his 4-year-old son fell off a malfunctioning ski lift at the Montana Snowbowl resort on Sunday. They were seated on the same chairlift when the father said it hit one of the towers, and his son Sawyer was thrown off.
“This is a parent’s worst nightmare,” McLeod told The Missoulian on Friday. “I’m just watching him fall, and he’s looking at me. There’s nothing I can do, and he’s screaming. I just have this mental image of his whole body slipping out of my arms, and it’s terrible.”
McLeod told the outlet his other son, 6-year-old Cassidy, was riding a chair ahead with a snowboarder as he and Sawyer boarded the following lift. McLeod grew alarmed when he watched Cassidy’s chair make “huge, violent swings” as it approached the second tower.
“I’m worried he’s gonna hit that next tower,” McLeod told The Missoulian. “And it’s like 40 feet off the ground at that point. As that’s going through my head, all of a sudden, our chair smashes into the tower, the first one, as it starts going up.”
“And just like that,” he continued, “I reach for my son, and he just slips from my arms.”
Sawyer survived the fall, which McLeod estimated was between 12 and 15 feet. The boy would have faced a steeper 40-foot drop had their chair reached the second tower. Once the lift stopped, things only appeared to worsen for McLeod.
“I’m yelling like ‘somebody help us,’ and the lift stops a few seconds later,” he told The Missoulian. “But at the same time, as Sawyer is falling, the lift chair just breaks apart, and it just flips backward… so I’m clinging on to the center bar while the chair is swinging.”
“My son is screaming, and I don’t know what to do,” he continued. “I’m like, ‘Do I jump right now?’”
McLeod said he watched a lift attendant rush over to Sawyer and hug him. She allegedly provided “zero communication” to the boy’s father while walking Sawyer back down to the lift terminal — when McLeod decided to take off his skis and jump off the chair.
He said he ran to his son when the attendant told him to “watch out” as they were going to start the lift again. McLeod was infuriated when attendants began “loading the next people in line,” with someone reportedly saying: “Yeah, that’s Snowbowl, haha.”
Andy Morris, whose family owns the resort, told The Missoulian that the lift has since been inspected and that “there was an unbalanced load that caused the lift to swing.” He said Riblet lifts like these “get to swaying pretty badly when they misload.”
Since the resort is part of Lolo National Forest, the land management agency has shut it down pending investigation. This isn’t the first Snowbowl mishap, as dozens of passengers were reportedly evacuated after a 2020 malfunction.
“What other chairs are deficient and just getting painted over, who knows?” McLeod said. “My worry is we got extremely lucky. If conditions had been different, Sawyer could have been killed. If nothing changes, is someone going to die?”