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The Teller Lift Colorado Ski Accident: 25 Year Anniversary

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ski liftOn 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.

Image by steve snodgrass, used under its Creative Commons license


9 Responses to “The Teller Lift Colorado Ski Accident: 25 Year Anniversary”

  • Pat Williams says:

    My name is Pat Williams and I was on the last chair of people to be thrown off of this lift that day. Myself, Mike Sullivan and his son from Aurora were ejected and I was thrown backwards and down slope on the hill that day due to trying to hang on. It slingshotted me farther down the slope than anyone else. The girl behind us gave a quote to the Denver Post and said “The man in front of me did a 40′ belly flop”. That man was me.

    I broke my cheek bones, broke my tail bone and ruptured my bladder along with multiple bruises, as you can well imagine.

    I never thought I would fall from a lift because I was on the ski patrol and worked as a summer ski lift maintenance tech at a ski resort in Utah, I am fine these days, but prefer golf to skiing.

  • Terri says:

    I remember that day well….I was 25 and it was my first time ever skiing. We were at A-Basin and it was a very windy, cold, crisp day. We had lunch (that we had packed) and headed back for the slopes. About an hour later, our friend (and traveling companion) met us at the foot of the slope and said we needed to go immediately. His girlfriend (now wife) had been slammed into by an out-of-control 15 yr. old and knocked into a chairlift pylon. All we knew as we left was that they were trying to divert a helicopter from “another serious accident from another ski resort” to pick her up. Our friend was taken to Lutheran Hospital, where she had emergency surgery for a ruptured spleen and torn liver and was put into intensive care next to a man who had also suffered a skiing injury. We later found out, he passed away and had been on the chairlift at Keystone. His young son was also injured but recovered. I have NEVER been skiing since, and continue to say a prayer for the people injured and passed that day.

  • Cole Loberg says:

    That is nice of you to share such a dreadful experience. I was always a little afraid of the lifts when I was 10 or so and skiing with my dad. I hope you are alright now.

  • Otto deFay says:

    I remember that day. I loved skiing North Peak. I was supposed to go that day, but a coworker gave me 2 tickets for the Broncos that day. It was such a tragedy and the lift tickets were only $20.

  • Matt Eha says:

    I was there that day. It was the first day of our trip and we had just stopped at the top to go in and get something to drink. All of the sudden there was a bang and a grinding sound. I looked over to see the first whiplash sending debris into the air, skis, parts of the chairs, and bodies. It was like an explosion of debris thrown up all at once. It all came back down and then there was silence for a few seconds before the screams started. the first 15 or so chairs were gone from teh cable. The next 15 were broken and empty. We watched as ski patrol and Keystone employees roped off the area calling for doctors to come forward from teh crowd. It sickened our stomaches to the point that we left the mountain to get drunk and forget.

  • Fred Thomas says:

    I think I was about four chairs from the bottom, so I didn’t have any trouble holding on. The ski patrol got us down with a ladder, but the only way to get home was to hike all the way up the mountain, have a much-delayed lunch, and then ski down. When we were almost to the top we hopped into a trailer being pulled by a snowcat, but I guess it got overloaded and it started sliding backwards and jackknifed. We walked the rest of the way.

  • Mary says:

    I was working at the restaurant at the top of North Peak that day. The experience was traumatic to say the least. It was a depressing rest of the season for us.

  • Bobby says:

    THE TOP 15 CHAIRS WERE NOT ALL GONE. I worked there and know all of those involved in the rescue. chair backs were broken on several of the top chairs, ALL CHAIRS remained attached to the cable.


My daughter and I first consulted with Dan Rosen after a very serious auto accident. Dan had several phone conferences with me, and Tracie was available whenever I called. We would recommend personal injury attorney Dan Rosen to anyone!
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