What frustrated me about the story yesterday was the apparent lack of action by the Ski Patrol. Perhaps I had an unfair expectation given their level of training. It did seem that there was no significant preparation, nor a plan in place for this eventuality.
The reality is that this happens so fast, that getting resources to the scene in time to make a difference would be a logistical problem. Also the ability to change the outcome is so dependent on constantly changing variables, as to make each situation unique.
There are three basic ways to change the outcome of an uncontrolled fall and landing in this type of situation;
Secure to victim so he doesn't fall, or get him back on the chair.
Rescue him, or control his descent.
Make the landing as minimal as possible, this means reducing the fall distance or softening the landing zone.
If I ruled the world;
First, one person on scene has to be in charge, usually the first to arrive. One incident commander, end of story. The decision to start/stop the lift has to be made by the incident commander immediately based on circumstances and implemented immediately.
I would have a rescue kit stored at the TOP of each lift. Most Patrolers hang out there anyway and would bring the kit down to the scene. The rescue kit would be a back pack with various ropes, securing straps, shovel, telescoping arm, trauma sheers, taupe, carabiners, escape ladder, etc. All of these items could be used to help secure, lower the victim, remove his skis or break his fall. This gives a chance to secure the victim, or lower the victim to safety. It's just a chance, but a fighting chance.
Most lift stanchions have some kind of padding around them, along with softer piled up snow. I would design this padding to be quickly removable and deployed as a landing pad. Along with breaking up the surface, piling snow and laying down jackets, this could provide a landing zone that many free style climbers would be envious of. Again, it's just a chance, but a fighting chance.
The final component to any emergency plan is awareness and training. You have to run through it several times, talk about rescuer safety, variables, options, personnel, liability (yuk). A timely response, leadership and good communication are the keys to a chance of success. I know this looks complicated, but with a little preparation and training it is really quite simple, and not too costly.
If it works one out of five or ten times it's worth it. The times it doesn't work at the least the responders and onlookers will feel that something was being attempted other than picking up the pieces. In this situation the kid hung for long enough to get a basic landing zone prepared, securing straps thrown up, or a rescue rope/escape ladder deployed. All of these would have been valid options on this scene with a little planning and training.
I don't rule the world, so we will probably be talking about this again next season. Just as we are are now, and we did last year when a similar situation happened. If you don't like my plan, please tell what yours is.