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‘Everybody hurls on that’

Tamara Miller
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EAGLE ” You’d have a better chance at winning the Whack A Mole game in the midway than getting injured on a carnival ride at the Eagle County Fair.

Getting sick from spending too much time on a carnival ride at the fair is as common as cotton candy, however.

Reports of serious injuries or deaths at amusement parks make headlines, but the reports themselves actually are rare. Neither fair officials nor inspectors can recall an accident occurring at the fair in recent years.



National statistics show there have been 55 deaths at carnivals and amusement parks between 1987 and 2001, the last year such cases were tracked accurately.

Eagle County tries to beat the statistics by hiring a carnival company with a good safety record, said Brad Higgins, the fair manager. And all rides at the fair are inspected by the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District before the carnival opens, said Fire Chief Jon Asper.

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A Great Northern A’ffair, based out of Arizona, has been the carnival company of choice for the past several years. Owner Tim Mattfeldt said safety is his No. 1 priority.

“My kids ride these rides… and they’re priceless,” he said.

He’ll make no guarantees, though, that your stomach will be able to handle the rides.



There are about a dozen rides at this year’s fair, ranging from the kiddie-style Flying Pink Elephants to the more body-jarring Flying Carpet. Mattfeldt tries to bring rides that are more family-oriented, he said.

All of the rides have height requirements, and measuring sticks are placed at the entrance. The height requirements ensure the restraint system will fit the rider. In some cases, a young child is allowed on a ride with an adult.

“And some rides, unfortunately, little guys just can’t ride,” he said.

Most injuries are due to riders goofing around rather than some mechanical failure, Mattfeldt said. That’s why he considers the more mellow, family rides to be the most dangerous. Children are more apt to ignore rules. It’s not always the case, though.

“We’ve had a drunk attorney try to crawl off a ride and then he tried to sue us,” Mattfeldt said.

His advice to parents? “Be cognizant of what your kids are doing,” Mattfeldt said. If a parent sees their child in danger, notify a ride operator right away. All are trained to turn their rides off immediately if there is a problem, he said.

Injuries aside, getting sick from a carnival ride is no rarity. And just like the trend with injuries, people seem to get sick more from the family rides.

“Our most popular ride for families is the Berry-Go-Round,” Mattfeldt said, describing the ride that allows four or five passengers to enter a large, enclosed strawberry and spin around in for a few minutes.

“That’s the big hurler ride,” he said. “Everybody hurls on that.”

It seems youngsters favor the more stomach-churning rides than adults, but age really isn’t a factor in determining if you’ll get sick from a carnival ride, said Jan Owen. She’s a certified medical assistant in Dr. Matthew Goodstein’s ear, nose and throat office in Glenwood Springs.

The queasy feeling is just from good-old fashion motion sickness, Owen said. The human brain’s sense of balance is directly related to fluid inside the ear.

When someone is twirled or turned upside down, the fluid moves, and the brain can’t tell up from down, she said. And some people’s systems are just better at adjusting to the imbalance.

Taking a motion-sickness pill before getting on carnival rides can help. “But they tend to be very sedating, someone might sleep through the ride,” Owen said.

Now, what is the likelihood of that?

Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or tmiller@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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