The coroner’s report about the Jan. 29, 2023, death of a 6-year-old girl at Val Saint-Côme resort in Quebec calls into question ski area staff training and safety practices, as the investigation revealed several missteps during the accident.
According to the report, Lily Leblanc was in a ski lesson and riding a T-bar with another student. She was one of three kids in the group with one instructor. After one of the students in the group fell going up, the instructor riding the bar behind Leblanc asked her and the remaining student to get off as the lift was in motion. Leblanc fell trying to get off and the hood of her coat got caught on the T-bar. She was dragged 540 meters (about 1,770 feet) uphill and asphyxiated.
The coroner, Julie-Kim Godin, found that several factors contributed to the girl’s death.
The 6-year-old was not riding with an adult. And the instructor was likely taught to keep the group of students together at all times, which is why the instructor told the kids to get off after one of the students fell. The coroner wrote that the instructor was faced with a difficult situation when the first student fell: either order the other two students off the moving lift, or allow the group to be separated, both of which go against safety rules.
“This is an exceptional situation where it was necessary to prioritize one of the two principles,” Godin wrote. “The decision that was made triggered the cascade of events that followed.”
After exiting the lift, the instructor took the two remaining students to the bottom and asked the lift operator to stop the lift because one of the students, Leblanc, was stuck. Moments later, the decision was made to restart the lift despite no one making visual contact with Leblanc.
“Nobody went to help Lily or check that she’d gotten up before putting the lift back into function, and this, when it was known she’d fallen and was hanging from a T-bar that was stuck in a part of her coat,” the report says.
The lift operator at the top eventually saw the girl being pulled up by the T-bar, unconscious, but couldn’t immediately call ski patrol because the radio wasn’t working, so the employee went down on foot to find help. Leblanc was transported to a hospital where she was declared dead several hours later.
The death was deemed accidental, but Godin’s recommendations raise questions about the safety practices in place for teaching and supervising skiers, according to a report from The Canadian Press.
“The basic safety rules and written directives regarding emergency measures for all foreseeable situations at the Val Saint-Côme station were ignored,” Godin said. “We have to wonder if they had been taught to the attendants.”
She also noted the problem could have been avoided had all the children been riding with an instructor or adult. And the lift operators reported having only received four hours of training, and said they hadn’t been given “any specific procedure” to follow in the event of a passenger falling.
In the report, Godin recommends the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Z-98, the Canadian version of ASC B77) and the Quebec Ski Areas Association (ASSQ) “look into the events surrounding Lily’s death in order to review the supervision of the training of operators and attendants and to put in place solutions to prevent a similar event and avoidable deaths.”
She also asked the Canadian Ski Instructor’s Alliance to review its teaching methods for lift utilization during ski lessons, and to explore having more staff in place during children’s lessons.
Val Saint-Côme has since replaced the T-bar with a conveyor lift. Students are now accompanied by an instructor when riding up the mountain.
ASSQ is forming an experts committee to review the existing guide for ski schools and will offer new training for lift attendants as of December. According to ASSQ president Yves Juneau, the association has reviewed signage and has developed more videos to facilitate lift usage. It is also launching a “safety on the slopes” month across all Quebec ski areas to provide better information on lift safety and the mountain code of conduct. It will take place in mid-January.