Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Zendo Chair had no operational issues the day a man fatally fell from the lift, according to state investigation
While it determined the lift to be in working order, the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board noted in their report that because the lift had resumed operations after the fall but before the man's death, a complete on-scene investigation could not be completed
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add information about other deaths involving chairlifts and to correct information about fatalities at Ski Granby Ranch and Vail Mountain.
Investigators observed no mechanical issues with Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Zendo Chair the day an Illinois man fell from the lift and died, according to Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board.
On Friday, March 17, John Perucco, 60, of Elgin, Illinois, died after a fall from the Zendo Chair, the Summit County Coroner’s Office said in an email that month. Zendo Chair is a four-person, fixed-grip chairlift that opened in 2013 and traverses from Peak 7 to Peak 6.
“While a tragic accident,” the Tramway Safety Board report on the incident concludes, the fatality “was not the result of a malfunction of a passenger tramway.”
Less than an hour after the resort opened that morning, Perucco and another passenger loaded the Zendo Chair, according to the report. Perucco fell about 25 feet onto packed snow before reaching the first lift tower, the report states. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office previously said the restraint bar was up at the time of the fall.
The other person on the chairlift reported that Perucco had twisted to brush something off the chair seat and slid off while doing so, according to the report, which states that other witnesses provided similar descriptions.
The operator at the lower terminal immediately stopped the chairlift, and ski patrol responded to a call about the incident at 9:20 a.m., according to the Tramway Safety Board. The lift was restarted to unload all passengers and closed pending further investigation by the ski resort, the report states.
According to ski patrol, Perucco complained of pain in his shoulder, back and left leg and was diagnosed with several injuries including a broken clavicle and broken ribs, the report states. Ski patrol reportedly transported him to the First Aid center at the base of Peak 8, where he was picked up by a Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District ambulance to be transported to the hospital for further treatment.
Perucco died on the way to the hospital and was pronounced dead just before noon, according to the Tramway Safety Board. The Summit County Coroner’s Office conducted an autopsy and concluded that the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries sustained in the fall.
Breckenridge lift maintenance found no anomalies when they inspected the carrier that Perucco had been riding as well as multiple other carriers, according to the Tramway Safety Board. Lift maintenance also inspected the first lift tower out of an abundance of caution and found no issues, the report states.
After reviewing witness statements and determining the fall was not a result of a chairlift malfunction, Breckenridge reopened the Zendo Chair, according to the Tramway Safety Board.
Because the lift reopened prior to Perucco’s death but after the tramway safety board was notified that the passenger died, the safety board was unable to conduct a complete on-scene investigation, the report states.
The safety board’s investigation reportedly included a review of the incident site, an on-site interview with ski patrol and discussions with lift maintenance, Breckenridge Ski Resort Health and Safety and a member of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
Under state law, the Tramway Safety Board is required to issue an investigation report whenever “a death or injury results from a possible malfunction of a passenger tramway.”
Since Colorado established the Tramway Safety Board in 1965, there have been only seven fatalities related to lift malfunctions from three separate incidents, according to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, under which the safety board falls.
Four of the Colorado fatalities from tramway malfunction occurred at Vail Mountain in 1975 as the result of a gondola cable incident, two occurred at Keystone in 1985 as a result of a bull wheel failure and one at Ski Granby Ranch in 2016 when a mother died in a fall with her two daughters as “a result of a rare dynamic event,” the safety board report states.
A ski passenger is five times more likely to suffer a fatality riding an elevator than a ski lift, and eight times more likely to suffer a fatality riding in a car than on a ski lift, according to a 2018 report from the National Ski Areas Association. That report found that since 2004, there have been three fatalities resulting from falls from chairlifts unrelated to mechanical malfunctions.
In 2020, another death involving a lift occurred at Vail Mountain, where a rider’s clothing got caught on the chairlift, causing them to die of a lack of oxygen. The chair came around with its seat not lowered in that case, and the rider’s family reached a settlement in their wrongful death lawsuit with Vail Resorts earlier this year.
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