Teller Lift failure led to River Run gondola tear down |

Teller Lift failure led to River Run gondola tear down

The collapse of the Teller Lift at Keystone Ski Resort on Dec. 14, 1985, set in motion an expensive retrofit that slowed, but certainly didn’t stop Keystone Mountain’s aggressive expansion.

Keystone was setting the pace under then Keystone President Jerry Jones, who was considered the industry’s marketing guru.

At the time, the Teller Lift was part of the most aggressive expansion program that ever had been undertaken on the Arapahoe National Forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The Teller Lift was in the first phase of a project that involved the opening of North Peak and expansion of runs on the back side of Keystone Mountain. Two new triple chairlifts, a double chairlift, the gondola and the start of the River Run base village would be built within a year.

The Teller Lift would last only a year, and two months after the Dec. 14, 1985, accident, Keystone would close its new high-speed gondola. Both were built by Lift Engineering and Manufacturing Co., of Carson City, Nev., a company that would later go bankrupt.

Keystone cited a combination of minor safety considerations with the gondola, which had been touted as the longest and fastest in the world. But there was no doubt a primary reason was the stigma caused by the fact it was built by the same company that had built the Teller Lift.

“Because of the accumulation of these maintenance problems in light of the Teller accident,” Jones said back in February 1986, “I felt I could not jeopardize the safety of our guests or employees in any way, even if it had less than 1 percent chance of a malfunction.”

It would cost Keystone well over $5 million to replace it with a Swiss gondola manufactured by Von Roll Habegger.

The old gondola was torn down, and many of the gondola cars were sold at a nominal price mostly to people in the Summit County area. Some of those cars likely still dot the mountain landscape.

The Teller Lift also was replaced and renamed the Ruby Lift.

-Brad Johnson

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