One teenager says he was forced to make an impossible decision: jump from a ski lift or freeze to death. It happened at Sugar Mountain, a popular resort for skiers in northwest North Carolina.
During a family ski trip to Sugar Mountain on Valentine’s Day of 2016, 14-year-old Josh Elliott split off to snowboard alone. He hopped on the ski lift just before dusk.
“It was going way too fast and I couldn’t stop. So on the way down the ski lift shut off and I was up there by myself,” the Chattanooga, Tennessee native said.
Josh says he waited about 20 minutes before taking out his phone to call for help, but it immediately shut off because of the intense cold. The high in the area that day was just 17 degrees. The low was 4 degrees.
Time passed. It got darker and colder. Josh waited two hours for rescue.
“It’s hard to accept that you’re probably going, that you think you’re going to die, especially at the age of 14, because that’s what I thought. I thought I was gonna die and there was nothing I could do about it. So I figured I could jump and maybe die or stay up here and definitely die, so I just took my chances,” he said.
Josh jumped and hit the ground 30 feet below. Everything went black.
“My first thought was like, am I in heaven? And then I realized I was still on Earth and my first thought was just thankfulness that I was on the ground. I was just so happy to be on the ground.”
Josh was alive, but still alone with a shattered ankle and broken arm.
“I had to crawl out of the woods about 200 yards and then down the slopes another 300 yards,” he said.
After another two hours he saw people and got their attention.
“I stopped some snow boarders and I asked them to go get help. I was almost crying because I was so thankful that I found some help and I was going to be okay.”
We reached out to Sugar Mountain Resort about the incident. They released this statement:
"As we have previously stated, Sugar Mountain Resort can confirm that an incident occurred two years ago on February 14, 2016 when a young man jumped from the lift and was injured. Once he was reported missing, an intense search by ski patrol, security, and management was initiated. We were within minutes from finding the young man when he decided to jump. Last year, his parents filed a lawsuit against Sugar Mountain Resort related to the incident. That case was recently settled to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. We regret that the incident occurred and have taken appropriate measures to ensure that an incident like that never happens again. At Sugar Mountain Resort, we are serious about the safety of our guests and employees."
Now 16 and in the ninth grade, Josh says he thinks about that jump every hour.
“It definitely makes me look at life in a new light. I’m definitely more thankful now,” he said.
Josh is undergoing surgery to remove the screws and plates implanted in his foot.
He hopes he’ll once again be able to play his favorite sport of soccer and believe it or not, he wants to snowboard again, as well.