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Death of Stowe Resort employee in zip-lining accident under investigation

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 11:32 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - The Stowe Mountain Resort has put its Canopy Adventures on pause following a fatal zip-lining accident on Thursday.

The resort is suspending its zip-lining activities while state and local agencies investigate the death of an employee there.

There’s no word yet on exactly what caused the accident. All we know is that a mechanical failure could have been a factor.

And while this tragedy is reverberating through Vermont at the peak of its fall tourism season, tourists tell me they still believe the rewards from zip lining outweigh the risk.

“Just tragic when people lose their life doing something that’s such a fun activity,” said Justin Ladd, a visitor from Maine.

“Horrible, the worst thing that could happen,” said Tami Knowlton-Johnson, a visitor from California.

It’s that time of year-- when thousands of tourists like Ladd and Knowlton-Johnson pour into Vermont to peep at the fall foliage. And Stowe’s zip lining tours are a favorite way to take in some of Vermont’s best views.

But tragedy struck there Thursday in what tourists are calling a freak accident.

Around 3 p.m. Thursday, Stowe police say ZipTour Adventure employee Scott Lewis, 53, hit an anchoring platform supporting the line. They say he died from his injuries on the course.

We’re told the Stowe resident has been working the tours for the past couple of years and was skilled at zip lining.

“We’ve never had any incidents like this up there regarding any accident on the mountain of this nature, so it is something new,” Stowe Police Chief Donald Hull said.

Right now, the Stowe Police Department is leading the death investigation. The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration-- or VOSHA-- is also involved since the fatality was a result of a workplace injury.

Vail Resorts, which owns the slopes, declined an interview but said in a statement: “Stowe Resort and the entire Vail Resorts family extend our deepest sympathy and support to this employee’s family and friends. We are also ensuring our team members are receiving the care and support they need during this time.”

The Vermont Department of Labor tells me Thursday’s zip line employee death was the state’s first, a statistic that echoes Chief Hull’s experience.

“I would say that the whole zip lining experience is probably safe since we’ve never dealt with something like this before,” the chief said.

Hull encourages tourists to remain confident in the sport’s safety and continue to seek canopy adventures elsewhere.

While the tragedy weighs heavy on their minds, tourists who frequently zip line tell me they won’t let it hang over their heads.

“Whenever you do anything exhilarating or fun-- waterskiing, snow skiing, bicycling, motorcycle riding-- accidents happen,” Knowlton-Johnson said.

“I would do it again,” Johnson said.

I did a lot of digging and learned zip lining isn’t a state-regulated activity. In other words, it’s unclear which entity ensures the equipment is working properly, though sources tell me the manufacturer may enforce certain standards.

I asked Vail how often the course is inspected and by whom but had not yet heard back when this story was published.

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