Tragedy struck yesterday at Granby Ranch, Colorado during what is normally a celebratory week at American ski resorts. A 40-year old woman and her two daughters, ages 9 and 12, fell from a chair on the Quickdraw quad at approximately 9:30 am. Kelly Huber, of San Antonio, Texas died, while one of her children remains in stable condition at a Denver hospital. The older sister was treated and released. In a statement today, the resort noted, “All of us at Granby Ranch are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic incident at our resort. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of our guests. Our focus right now is on supporting those affected by this tragedy.”
Quickdraw is one of only three Italian-built Leitner detachable chairlifts in the United States, debuting at Granby Ranch in 1999. Leitner and Poma merged their North American operations in 2002. While some reports indicate the lift stopped frequently before the accident, those of us who work around lifts know that is not unusual this time of year and often not due to any mechanical problem. There’s no indication the detachable grip failed and the fourth spot on the chair was apparently empty. Quickdraw’s chairs are equipped with both restraining bars and footrests. The Colorado Passenger Tramway Board is investigating and Quickdraw remained closed today.
According to the NSAA, the last fatal fall from a U.S. chairlift occurred on December 18, 2011 at Sugar Bowl, when a 7-year old boy fell 60 feet. Non-deadly falls are more common, however, with 227 reported in Colorado alone between 2001 and 2012. 86 percent of those were found to be a result of rider error, with 4 percent due to medical problems and just 2 percent attributed to operator/mechanical issues (the rest were never classified.) Yesterday’s accident was the first deadly chairlift fall in Colorado since 2002, with 1.7 billion safe rides in the years between, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.
Nevertheless, as I write this, a family is in mourning and the story occupies the fourth spot on CNN.com. With more holiday weeks to come, let this terrible accident be a reminder that no matter how statistically safe they are, ski lifts can become dangerous in an instant. Already this year, we’ve seen falls from chairs at Mt. Hood Meadows, Seven Springs and Whistler with near misses at Sundance and Mt. Ashland. Many more never make the news. Be safe out there – especially with kids on lifts.