By Thomas Peipert, Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — An independent contractor’s modifications to a chairlift at a small Colorado ski resort likely caused a lurch that toppled a Texas woman 25 feet to her death, a resort official said Friday.
The contractor modified the electrical drive/control system of the high-speed Quick Draw Express lift before the ski season, Melissa Cipriani, CEO of Granby Ranch, said in a news release.
A separate report by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board says problems with that system “contributed to a rare dynamic event that occurred on the lift at the time of the incident.”
The name of the contractor that did the work has not been released.
The four-person chair carrying Kelly Huber, 40, and her two young daughters hit a support tower at the resort 90 miles west of Denver on Dec. 29, causing the family to fall onto hard-packed snow.
The San Antonio woman was killed. Her 12-year-old daughter was treated at a hospital and released, while her 9-year-old daughter was flown to a hospital in suburban Denver. Her condition has not been released.
Resort officials did not specify what modifications were made by the contractor, who is not affiliated with the lift’s manufacturer. A phone call to the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board on Friday afternoon was not returned.
The lift, which has been operating since 1999, was closed after the accident and reopened Jan. 10 under restrictions. The resort agreed to disconnect the electrical drive and operate the lift using diesel power. It also increased inspections.
The lift was shut down again Wednesday because of problems with its diesel power system, prompting an emergency meeting of the safety board. It will remain closed until additional tests are completed.
Meanwhile, the resort is planning to install a new electrical drive.
“In the interest of safety, Granby Ranch has retained the original manufacturer of the lift to return the Quick Draw Express Lift to safe operating condition under electrical power,” Cipriani said in the news release.
Fatal falls from U.S. ski lifts are rare.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, three people have died since 2004 in falls not related to mechanical problems.
The last fatal fall in Colorado, which accounts for more than a fifth of skier visits nationwide, happened in 2002 when the manager of Winter Park Ski Resort fell about 15 feet from a lift after suffering seizure-like symptoms.