'Hero' slackliner Mickey Wilson, who saved man at Arapahoe Basin, recounts rescue in own words

ARAPAHOE BASIN, Colo. – Mickey Wilson was so busy skiing more than two feet of fresh powder Thursday that he didn’t know the man whose life he saved a day earlier had been released from the hospital.

And late Wednesday morning -- as he was being called a hero just after cutting a fellow skier from a backpack strap that had caught the skier around his neck, leaving him dangling unconscious a story above the snow -- Wilson didn’t even know whether or not the man had survived.

Wilson, a professional slackliner from Golden who attributed his professional skills to his ability to scale a chairlift tower, shimmy down it and cut the trapped skier loose, recounted the harrowing incident to Denver7 late Thursday after a day of “really great” powder skiing at the ski area west of Denver, but brushed off his "hero" status, saying anyone would have done the same thing.

The man Wilson saved, a 30-year-old man from Broomfield who wishes not to be identified, talked of his experience with the Denver Post Thursday.


The following is a transcript of his interview, which can be seen in the video player above. Some edits have been made for clarification's sake:

“It was totally random chance that I ended up skiing with those particular friends. Two of them were really old ski friends of mine that I’ve known for six, or seven, or eight years, and the other friend of theirs was kind of more of a friend of theirs, and I hadn’t really met him ever.

“And so there were four of us and they said to meet them at Pallavicini, which is the best chairlift in the world at Arapahoe Basin, at 10:30 [a.m.] So I showed up at 10:21 and they weren’t there, and I was like, ‘Oh I’m here early. I’ll go up the lift and ski down the lift line and if they’re here they’ll see me.’

“That’s exactly what happened. I was skiing down right under the chairlift and I hear people yelling my name, and I look up and I go, ‘Ohh,’ and they go, ‘Meet us at Lenawee.’ -- the mid mountain chair lift.

“So I went down, went back up, met them at Lenawee. Lenawee is a three-person chair lift, and there were four of us, so one of us had to go alone.

“Our other friend, the one I’m not so familiar with, decided to go ahead by himself so I could catch up with my old friends. So he’s up on the chair ahead of us, us three down behind him, and we get off the chairlift at the top and we don’t see our friend. He’s not there. And that’s what happens when you ski.

“You should see your friend and you all join up and you go. And so we go where is our friend? And that’s when we heard the first yell. We heard a yell. Not a scary yell, just a yell. Brings our attention back down the hill to this chairlift behind us and we see our friend’s ski -- just right where the chairlift goes up and goes back downhill -- we see one of his skis, not two.

“And we go, ‘Hmm he must have gotten pulled down the chairlift or something happened.’ At first we don’t think it’s going to be anything serious. I think I’m about to see something funny. I’m about to see a friend hung by his trousers or something, but then we hear another yell and it’s a little more urgent.

“And so I take my skis off fast, I’m kind of realizing this could be bad, and as we go over the hill, the crest, to see our friend, he’s hanging.

“The lift operator had stopped the chairlift at this point and he was hanging about – his feet were dangling about 10 feet off the ground.

“So what happened is his backpack strap had gotten caught in the chairlift and had drug him around and back down the hill. And then nobody will know, but in trying to escape, he got the backpack strap around his neck.

“And this guy’s a really advanced skier, you know, he knows what he’s doing. It was just bad luck in a lot of ways. And by the time we got there, it had been probably a minute since he had been entangled.

“He was already unconscious and had stopped battling to be free. He was hanging lifelessly. And then we start to go up to him and the enormity of the situation hadn’t hit yet, but then one of my friends started yelling, ‘He’s choking; he’s choking; he’s choking!’

“And still I’m not quite there. I’m thinking that he’s saying ‘joking’ and I’m not quite there. But then he starts screaming, and you know when you hear one of your friends’ voices get really high and scared, that’s when everything started to hit.

“The lift operator had come to help us, so there was four of us. We tried to make a human pyramid with the lift operator on top to get to him, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t get to him. Couldn’t get him off or anything.

“And I asked the lift operator if he could run the lift in reverse and he says no. And so we’re starting to realize he’s dying. He’s been unconscious without air for two or three minutes now.

“And people are yelling for ski patrol. Ski patrol is on their way, but it’s a big mountain. It takes you a while to get anywhere. I’m realizing that this is a life or death situation.

“So I look up at him. I look at where he’s stuck in relation to the tower. I realize that with my slacklining background, because that’s my full time profession, I’m a professional slackliner, I balance for a living.

“I realize that I can climb that tower and get onto the cable that’s that thick that holds all the chairs and I slid down the cable to his chair.

“I got to his chair, I climbed down onto it and I realize I don’t have my knife. And I usually ski with a knife. You know, knives are so helpful in these things, but I didn’t have it.

“Luckily, at that point a squadron of ski patrol – eight ski patrolman – had just arrived and they had brought a ladder with them because they didn’t know I was climbing.

“But instead, one of them had a knife. He tossed it up to me – the most perfect toss you can imagine – and I’m like hanging off their chairlift.”

Wilson has a cast on his right hand because of a slacklining injury he previously suffered.

“I catch it with my bad hand because I’m running on adrenaline. I pull out the knife and I cut the strap. He falls like a rag doll 10 feet down into the powder, and ski patrol was right there with all the gear necessary to resuscitate him and get him breathing again.

“And I collapse in the chair realizing there’s nothing more I can do. And literally the first thing I thought to myself, it sounds weird, but I said, ‘Thank God I’m a slackliner and I was able to apply my slackline balance skills to this crazy situation.’

“But you know, people were calling me a hero -- telling me I saved his life. But I didn’t know that was the case because they rushed him to the ambulance and then to St. Anthony’s.

“We didn’t know. I got a FaceTime call from my friends from St. Anthony’s last night in the hospital room.

“He had some stuff on his neck, because he’d really hurt his neck and stuff. But he was conscious, smiling and they thanked me. And I said, ‘Thank you guys, everybody.’

“Everybody worked together to help. I couldn’t have saved him by myself. I couldn’t have. I just happened to be the guy who was able to climb the chairlift. And it was powerful. It was a really intense couple of minutes of my life.”

But Wilson, a part-time instructor at A-Basin, went up to the mountain to ski early Thursdsay after a few straight days of heavy snow that dumped 28 inches at A-Basin. He was unaware that his Facebook and Instagram posts about the rescue had gone viral and that every media outlet in Denver and across the country was looking to talk with him. Nor did he know the man he saved was discharged from the hospital around mid-day Thursday.

“I didn’t know he was discharged. I’ve been skiing powder at A-Basin all day today. I had no idea this was becoming a breaking news. So yeah I’ve been kind of out of touch from everything today.

“But I’m so glad to hear that he’s discharged. It’s amazing. It’s a really cool story that could have gone so badly, but humans worked together.”

But he brushed off his heroic actions, putting his trust in the ski patrol and other bystanders and friends that they would have done the same.

“I’d like to think that the Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol, which is one of the most capable ski patrol units in the world, would have gotten their ladder and gotten up there, and gotten him down the same way I did.

“I know for a fact I was up there much quicker than they got there. But that’s because I was there on site right when it happened. If I hadn’t been there, it’s hard to speculate and I don’t like to speculate, but I’d like to think that Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol would have done the same thing I did.”

And though he broke about every rule at the ski area in climbing the chair tower and freeing the man, he received praise from Arapahoe Basin for his quick action.

“People were screaming at me as I was climbing up not to do it, because they didn’t know that I’m a professional slackliner, I do balance for a living.

“A lot of people were telling me not to do it, but this is the other thing -- everyone’s been telling me I’m a hero. And I’m trying to stay humble and not let it go to my head, but my go-to answer to that is, nah I’ve just always really wanted to climb a chairlift anyway. I have.

“I’ve always wanted to climb up on those cables. It was a cool experience in a really horrible context. But if I hadn’t been there, someone else would have stepped up. No doubt.”

But more than anything, Wilson was thankful that his professional skills came in handy and benefited someone else.

“My reaction is I’m very thankful that I was able to be there and use the skills that I’ve learned over many many years of “slacking off” and they led to me saving a guy’s life. And that’s really cool. I got to save a life because I slackline!”

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