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Tampering, Sabotage Ruled Out In Vail Gondola Emergency

VAIL, Colo. (CBS4) - A CBS4 investigation has learned that investigators looking into a July 3 emergency on Vail's Eagle Bahn gondola have ruled out tampering and any intentional effort to sabotage the gondola in their ongoing investigation, according to a source connected to the incident. A total of 74 Vail employees who were riding the lift to their work stations that morning had to be rescued from the gondola cabins by rope after a safety monitoring system detected a problem with the lift and an emergency stop of the gondola occurred.

Gondola bolts 2 (002)
(credit: Vail Resorts)
gondola bolts 1
(credit: Vail Resorts)

Vail Resorts has been tight lipped about precisely what happened and why, but according to documents from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, obtained by CBS4 via an open records request, "seam bolts" securing two sections together of tower 12 were "sheared." The report does not specify how many bolts were sheared. However, a source briefed on the investigation told CBS4 of the 24 bolts in question, most of them had come loose.

Jessie Vandenhouten, a spokesperson for Vail Resorts, said the following on Thursday.

"The issue with the Eagle Bahn gondola in Vail has been fully resolved and we are confident in the safety of all our lifts. ... We are taking this opportunity to bolster our world- class lift safety protocol by continuing to work with internal and external lift experts and specialists to deepen our understanding of the event and further enhance our ability to anticipate and prevent potential issues."

gondola bolts 3
(credit: Vail Resorts)

Vandenhouten declined to answer specific questions about how many bolts failed, or the direction of the ongoing investigation. All of the bolts were immediately replaced and the lift was put back into operation the week after the incident.

One source familiar with the incident told CBS4 what occurred was not intentional, and sabotage and tampering have been ruled out as causes of the tower bolt failure.

The source -- who asked their name not be used as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the lift failure -- told CBS4 the bolts that failed on the tower had been replaced in 2011 and that most bolts like the ones in question last for the entire life of a lift. The source indicated there were likely multiple causes of the bolt failure.

A photo of the lift tower from July 3, obtained by CBS4 reporter Matt Kroschel, appeared to show at least half a dozen bolts that secured two tower sections together seeming to have become loose.

(credit: Vail Resorts)

A CBS4 review of state inspection records shows that a year earlier, on July 22, 2018, Vail reported an incident with the Eagle Bahn gondola. According to the report, "Failed tensioner belts at drive terminal entry causing an empty cabin to stall in deceleration area resulting in the next empty incoming cabin to make contact." The report says the problem brought the entire lift to a stop for 40 minutes.
The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board conducts an annual licensing inspection and one unannounced inspection every year on all Colorado ski lifts.

State inspectors conducted a licensing inspection on the Eagle Bahn gondola Nov. 3, 2018, and an unannounced visit Feb. 15, 2019. According to the state tramway safety board, "All necessary corrections were completed by the ski area stemming from those two inspections."

CBS4 reviewed two years worth of state inspection reports on all Vail lifts. Most problems that were detected appeared to be minor and were quickly corrected, according to state inspection reports.

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