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Ground Movement Blamed For Vail Gondola Mishap

VAIL, Colo. (CBS4)- Vail Resorts says undetected ground shifting is the primary cause of a July incident on the Eagle Bahn gondola. In that incident, two sections of a gondola tower mostly separated, and prompted the emergency evacuation of 74 resort employees who were riding the gondola to work that morning.

vail gondola
(credit: Vail Ski Resort)
Vail Gondola
The Eagle Bahn gondola at Vail (credit: Michael Shellenberger)

Carol Fabrizio, Vail Resorts Vice President of Communications, told CBS4 the company conducted an in-depth analysis of the Eagle Bahn gondola incident.

"The findings show that over time, the ground shifted in a way that was undetectable by inspections…"

Eagle Bahn gondola vail resorts
The Eagle Bahn gondola at Vail (credit: Michael Shellenberger)

The new findings are contained in a letter sent Sept. 26 from Vail's Director of Lift Maintenance to the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. The letter summarizes Vail's findings about what occurred and mark the resort's first extensive public remarks about the gondola incident.

Just before 9 a.m. on July 3, the gondola stopped operating after a safety system was tripped. According to the letter sent to the state agency, Vail personnel noticed that "tower 12 was leaning uphill and that the upper section had partially separated from the lower section at the tower flange."

A total of 74 employees were rescued from gondola cabins by rope. No injuries were reported.

gondola bolts 1
(credit: Vail Resorts)

Twenty out of 24 bolts securing the two tower sections together had come loose. However Phil Patterson, Vail mountain Director of Lift Maintenance, wrote that "the root cause of the incident did not appear to be failure of the nut/bolt hardware… the tower 12 foundation could have experienced downhill movement following its original installation in 1996."

Consultants who were brought in confirmed "that the footer for tower 12 had in fact shifted downhill from its original installed location, in a manner not detected by Vail or CPTSB during routine inspections because there had been no other indicators of any tilting, rotation, or other atypical forces on tower 12… This downhill shift away from tower 13 created an unusual degree of pulling force at the top of tower 12, causing an unanticipated degree of stress on the connection at the lower flange in the tower assembly."

Eagle Bahn gondola vail resorts
The Eagle Bahn gondola at Vail (credit: Michael Shellenberger)

Vail says moving forward, it will conduct additional assessments on the gondola and other lifts at Vail Resorts ski areas. The company went on to say it is interested in helping prevent similar incidents at other resorts and as asking the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board to share the new information with other agencies in other states. Fabrizio said, "... we have implemented new safety checks, above and beyond industry standards. We are working with our partners at the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board on sharing our findings and solutions with the broader industry to help prevent similar incidents from occurring."

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