News Roundup: Setbacks

snow-king-master-plan-jackson-wy
Snow King’s latest master plan concept abandons a lift east of Rafferty in favor of a south-facing lift.  The Summit double would be replaced with an 8-passenger gondola.

Leitner-Poma to Install New Drive on Quickdraw at Granby Ranch Following Accident

Leitner-Poma wasn’t involved in recent work that likely caused last month’s fatal fall at Granby Ranch, but the original manufacturer of the lift will fix it.  Ten days after re-opening using only the lift’s diesel auxiliary, Granby Ranch has a plan to restore Quickdraw to full capacity with a new electronic drive.  In a statement issued today, The ski area acknowledged a third-party company modified the drive system over the summer, as I reported last week.  “Preliminary investigation has revealed that the issue that likely caused the incident was the independent contractor’s modification to the lift’s electrical drive/control system,” the release notes.  The third-party installed system only operated 13 days before a chair hit a tower Dec. 29th, killing 40-year old Kelly Huber of Texas and injuring her two daughters.

The Quickdraw lift at Granby Ranch seen last summer, when a third-party contractor installed a new electronic drive system.

Earlier today, Granby Ranch said Quickdraw would be closed today and tomorrow for additional testing, as ordered by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board.  The area hopes to re-open again under diesel power in the next few days and Leitner-Poma will install the new electronic drive system in the near future.  The CPTSB will release its official report on the December incident in the coming months.

Update 1/21/17: A state spokesman says the CPTSB ordered the lift closed until further notice at an emergency meeting after reviewing “unusual/irregular conditions” observed while Quickdraw was operating with the diesel auxiliary.

Quickdraw at Granby Ranch to Reopen Following “Rare Dynamic Event”

For the first time in 24 years (and post-Lift Engineering) an electrical or mechanical problem has led to a fatality on an American ski lift.  The Quickdraw quad at Granby Ranch will re-open Tuesday after the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board reached an interim operation agreement with the ski area.  The news comes almost two weeks after the December 29th accident, in which a mother and her two daughters fell from a chair.  Unfortunately, the agreement notes that a “rare dynamic event” due to issues with the electronic drive/control system caused the riders’ fall. Environmental factors, weather and/or rider behavior were not to blame.

img_1877
A chair struck this tower Dec. 29, 2016, causing three members of a Texas family to fall 25 feet.  One died.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, which oversees the tramway board, conducted extensive testing in addition to interviewing witnesses and engineers over the past 10 days.  Mother Kelly Huber and her two children were riding chair number 58 when it came into contact with tower 5 due to irregular line dynamics.  The lift had been load tested less than four weeks prior, on Dec. 5th.

The operation agreement with the CPTSB is stringent.  Quickdraw’s electronic drive must be disconnected (this particular lift has two diesels – auxiliary and evacuation.)  Lift mechanics, operators and ski patrollers all must perform a line check prior to operation each day.  Additional visual line and ground checks will be required to be documented every two hours.  For the first three days, the lift will only be permitted to move 600 feet per minute, even though the diesel auxiliary is rated for up to 900 fpm.  After two additional days at 700 fpm, Granby Ranch will be permitted to operate the lift at 800 fpm for the rest of the season.  Presumably this summer the lift will get a completely new drive.

The operation agreement is not a final report and does not identify any acts or omissions leading up to the accident, but merely outlines the conditions under which the lift can re-open.  In a press release dated today, Granby Ranch echoed its condolences to the family of the victims and affirmed its commitment to safety.  “The Quick Draw Express has been operating safely  at Granby Ranch over the 16 seasons since its installation,” the company noted. “Granby Ranch has followed all prescribed protocols in operating the lift.”

We haven’t heard the end of this one.  Hopefully the final report will provide some insight into how this type of event can be avoided in the future.

Update 1/10/17: Apparently a third-party company installed a new ABB drive last summer that ramped up and/or down too quickly, leading to the dynamic event.

News Roundup: Dangling

Lift Safety in the Spotlight as Family Falls, Mother Dies at Granby Ranch

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.”

IMG_1995
The Quickdraw detachable quad opened in 1999 and serves exclusively beginner and intermediate ski runs.

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 MeadowsSeven 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.