On December 14, 1985, the Teller Lift at the Keystone Ski Resort in Summit County, Colorado collapsed. When the lift’s bullwheel dropped from its encasement the resultant shock-wave traveled down the lift rope sending people flying from their chairs. The accident is considered on of the major chairlift accidents globally since the 1950s.
Brad Johnson, who was editor of the Summit Sentinel at the time, remembers the chaos in a recent piece for Summit Daily:
Dr. Bocell was the last person to ever get on the Teller Lift. He was about 15 feet off the ground when he felt a big jerk. ‘I was looking at this big oscillating wave coming down. My mouth was agape.’ He and his two seat mates felt the drop and then shot up about 30 feet but managed to hang on. He jumped off the chair before the last of three shock waves hit. ‘I had never seen anything like it, watching all those people get catapulted.’
The impact on top was very violent and in the first 200 yards, 49 people were seriously injured.
Five helicopters and a plethora of ambulances were brought in and rescue personnel worked feverishly amidst the snow and ice. While initial reports stated there were no fatalities in the accident two died later from severe personal injuries.
According to information from the Colorado Ski Museum, settlements made between Lift Engineering and the injured skiers amounted to over $7 million.
Manufacturer Lift Engineering and Manufacturing Co., of Carson City, Nevada would later go bankrupt after a manufacturing defect was found not only on that lift, but also on the entire line of Yan 1000 lifts produced by the company.
Janice Kurbjun, a reporter for Summit Daily, notes another ripple effect of the accident:
The same year Keystone’s Teller Lift sent ripples throughout the ski industry, the resort decommissioned its gondola, also a Yan lift. It was one of two to be installed in North America, and both were decommissioned.
‘It was a $7 million mistake,’ Jones said of the gondola, which was bought and installed prior to his presidency, but was still a young piece of machinery.
That is not the only aftermath from the lift failure. Besides the bankruptcy and the closing of the gondola, there has also been an increased focus on crisis management. The report about the incident created by Keystone provided valuable data for Colorado’s Tramway Safety Board, which constantly attempts to evolve and build upon the standards mandated by the federal government.