SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- He was 7 years old and loved to ski, a child described as simply "happy out on the slopes."
Now members of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team are being comforted by grief counselors and are offering their own condolences and support to the family of John Henderson, who was a second-grader at North Davis Elementary School.
The boy, a member of the ski team, fell from a chair lift he was riding on Sunday with two of his teammates. Two days later, he died after surgery at Renown Medical Center in Reno, according to officials of the Sugar Bowl Resort and its ski team.
What caused the boy to fall from the lift, in what ski industry officials described as an exceptionally rare accident, remained under investigation Wednesday. His death brought heartbreak to the 400-member Sugar Bowl Ski Team, which offers programs for youths ages 5 to 18.
"We're a close community and we're devastated for John and his family," said Bill Hudson, the ski team's executive director. "We're really just focusing on what we can do as a community to support them at this time."
John Henderson was in his second year with the ski team. The boy was an avid mountain enthusiast, whom Hudson described as "an excellent skier" who could "ski any run on the mountain."
"I'm not sure how many years he had skied, but he was quite proficient," Hudson said.
The boy was the son of Mark Henderson, associate dean of the medical school at the University of California, Davis, and Helen Chew, leader of the UC Davis Cancer Center clinical breast cancer program.
His family released a statement to The Sacramento Bee Wednesday evening saying that John "was always an active and rambunctious child" who enjoyed baseball, soccer, biking and skiing, a voracious reader who built elaborate Lego creations and enthusiastically discussed his interests with anyone who would listen.
He dreamed of being an astronaut or an inventor.
"Most of all, he prided himself on his independent exploration, preferring to puzzle over things himself rather than asking for help," his family said. Besides his parents, John had two siblings, Paul, 16 and Jessica, 22.
The accident occurred while he was riding with two other members of the ski team on the Mount Lincoln Express Chairlift, which goes to the top of the Sugar Bowl ski area.
Members of the Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol responded after the boy, who was wearing a helmet, fell 52 feet from the chair lift at about 11:15 a.m. Sunday. He was transported by helicopter to the Renown Medical Center. He died of head trauma shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Washoe County Medical Examiner's Office.
Hudson said grief counselors, including chaplains from Placer County and volunteers from the Truckee area, were helping ski team members and staff.
Sugar Bowl spokesman John Monson said ski patrol members interviewed witnesses, including ski team members riding with the boy, other chair lift passengers and observers on the ground, and are still trying to determine exactly what happened.
"We have numerous eyewitness accounts, some of which are conflicting," Monson said. "At this point, we have to work through the conflicting statements to find out which ones are the most accurate."
The National Ski Areas Association says an average of 40 fatalities occur at U.S. ski resorts a year. Last season, there were 47 deaths in 60 million visits by skiers or snowboarders.
But those fatalities generally stem from falls or collisions on the slopes. Troy Hawks, a spokesman for the association in Lakewood, Colo., said deaths from ski lift accidents or falls "are extremely rare in the industry."
The organization says there have been no recorded deaths as a result of a ski lift malfunction in the United States since 1993, when a 9-year-old British boy died at the former Sierra Ski Ranch. The group doesn't keep statistics on other accidental falls from lifts.
"Season in and season out, the ski industry transports hundreds of thousands of people many, many miles without incident," Hawks said.
He said all users of ski lifts are advised "to remain seated at all times, to sit far back in your seat while riding the lift."
He said resorts advise chair riders to pull down a safety bar -- available on most lifts -- after boarding the chair and raise it before skiing off. While on the chair, Hawks said, "Keep your hands in front of you, not reaching off to the sides. Don't be fumbling with your ski boots. Just remain still."
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