Ski lift operator “not paying attention” when N.J. man suffocated.

A ski lift operator in Vail was clearing snow and “not paying attention” when a New Jersey man suffocated to death after his coat became caught on the lift, according to an incident report about the death in February.

Jason Varnish, 46, of Short Hills, died of positional asphyxia on Feb. 13 at Vail Mountain’s Blue Sky Basin area, according to the Eagle County coroner.

Varnish, skiing with friend Steven Skolnick, was attempting to board a chair lift, but the seat was in an upward position. The men, while attempting to board, tried to push the seat down, and Skolnick fell.

Skolnick, according to the report, told Deputy Devan Salazar of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office that Varnish struggled to get on the lift. Varnish’s clothing got caught on the rubber stopper on the bottom of the seat. He was lifted 20 to 25 feet off the ground as Skolnick “hollered to the lift operator to stop the lift,” the report said. “The lift operator was not paying attention and had been cleaning off snow in the area.”

The lift stopped a “few seconds later.”

“Jason was struggling, trying to get unhooked and getting his coat unzipped,” the report said.

Skolnick and several unlookers tried to reach Varnish’s feet in an attempt to push up and relieve the pressure of his weight because it was clear he was choking.

Skolnick “told the lift operator to reverse the lift,” the report said. Initially, the lift operator said he couldn’t reverse the lift without permission. “A short time later,” the lift was reversed, and Varnish was “cut down.” He was unconscious, and CPR was performed.

His death has been ruled an accident.

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