How One Man’s Slackline Skills Saved His Friend’s Life

When his friend was unconscious, dangling from a ski lift, Wilson straddled the chairlift cable in much the same way he did a slackline.

April-2017-everyday-heroes-slackline-skills-photograph-by-matt-nager-01matt nager for Reader's DigestMickey Wilson had been on the mountain only a few seconds when he heard the scream. Wilson, 28 years old and a confirmed ski bum, had just gotten off the chairlift at the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Keystone, Colorado, along with his friends Billy Simmons and Hans Mueller. Their friend Richard (not his real name) had been on the chair ahead of them, but when the men reached the top of the lift, he had seemingly vanished. The men walked toward the source of the scream and found skiers stopped on the slope, pointing to the chairlift. And then the friends screamed too. Try these little things to be a true friend.

“My God!” yelled Mueller.

When Richard had tried to jump off the lift, his backpack had become entangled in the chair, which then dragged him back down the hill. In the process, the backpack strap wrapped around his neck, strangling him. Now Richard’s body was dangling four feet below the chair, his ski boots ten feet above the snow. The lift operator had quickly stopped the chairlift, and the friends kicked off their skis and ran toward the scene. They made a human pyramid to try to reach Richard, but the now-unconscious man was too far off the ground. With the clock ticking, Wilson ran to the ladder of a nearby lift tower, about 30 feet away. Panicked skiers watched as he scaled the 25 feet. After he reached the top, Wilson’s first challenge was to somehow climb onto the two-inch steel cable that held the chairs. As luck would have it, he’s a professional slackliner (similar to a tightrope walker). That helped him handle the balance and height, but he knew he couldn’t walk on the cable. “I had ski boots on,” Wilson says. “And there’s no way that would be the fastest thing to do.”

The solution: He straddled the chairlift cable, then used his hands to pull himself to Richard. Wilson’s greatest fear wasn’t that he’d fall, but that he wouldn’t reach his friend in time. “This was life or death,” he says.

Courtesy Mickey WilsonWhen he reached Richard’s chair, Wilson swung a leg over the cable and attempted to drop down onto it. But as he did that, his jacket caught on the movable footrest, which was in the up position. The footrest began to slide down, with Wilson attached. But before that could happen, he managed to free himself.

“We almost had two hanging guys,” he says.

Now standing on the chair, he kicked down on the backpack, vainly trying to break the strap. The ski patrol had gathered below, and one of them tossed up a folding knife, which Wilson caught. He leaned over and sliced the backpack strap. Richard plummeted ten feet to the powder below, while Wilson collapsed in the seat. The ski patrol performed CPR on Richard, who had been hanging for about five minutes, then skied him down to an ambulance. Wilson then rode the chairlift back down.

That night, Richard called Wilson from the hospital. Richard couldn’t say much because of a bruised trachea and broken rib, but he did thank his friend. “No problem, bro,” Wilson said. “I always wanted to climb one of those things.”

As for Wilson, the ordeal made him reassess his daredevil life. “I told Richard, ‘Man, maybe you saved me,’” he says. “It made me realize there are a lot of things you can’t control for, and I do a lot of dangerous things.” Here are another six reasons why having friends is good for you.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest