Probe: Colorado ski lift malfunction caused fatal fall
DENVER — A chairlift malfunction at a ski resort northwest of Denver caused a lurch that toppled a Texas woman 25 feet to her death, state investigators said Thursday.
A final report released by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board said recent changes to a control system, as well as rapid speed changes made by an operator, caused Kelly Huber, 40, and her two daughters to hit a support tower and fall onto hard-packed snow at Ski Granby Ranch on Dec. 29, The Denver Post reported.
The San Antonio woman was killed, and her daughters, then 9 and 12, were injured.
The lift’s drive control system was listed as the main culprit, and investigators said it might have created pulses of energy along the rope line and “could explain the rope instability.”
“No one on the investigative team has ever witnessed or heard of a similar event. Likewise, literature does not describe such an event,” according to the 151-page report.
The drive control system at the center of the accident, typically housed in the operator’s shack and which handles a lift’s power and operator inputs, had been installed less than a month before.
Witnesses said they saw the lift make several sudden accelerations and decelerations, and state investigators said those speed changes were a secondary cause of the fatal fall.
Ski Granby Ranch, which is about 50 miles northwest of Denver, has said work by an independent contractor on the lift‘s electrical drive control system before the start of the ski season likely led to the conditions that caused Huber’s death, adding that the resort “had followed all prescribed protocols in operating the lift.”
On Thursday, resort officials released a statement saying they were reviewing the report. The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board declined to comment.
The findings have been forwarded to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs for further review. Once that probe is complete, the tramway safety board will determine if the state’s tramway safety act was violated.
According to an October report by the National Ski Areas Association, the last death on a U.S. chairlift attributed to a malfunction was in 1993. The trade group also said that from 1973 to October, only 12 deaths were attributed to chairlift malfunctions.
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