Vail Resorts speaks out about why Eagle Bahn Gondola closed abruptly in July

Sean Naylor
Vail Daily
Vail Ski Patrol evacuates employees from Eagle Bahn gondola on July 3, 2019.
Courtesy Michael Shellenberger

VAIL — On July 3, employees at Vail Mountain were making their morning commute on the Eagle Bahn Gondola when it suddenly broke down, leaving them stranded in the cars. Nearly seven hours later, Vail Ski Patrol had completed an evacuation of 74 workers.

Following the incident, the gondola was closed for the next five days as a lengthy investigation began.

Finding the root cause

Phil Patterson, Vail’s director of lift maintenance, sent a letter Thursday to the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board that summarizes Vail’s analysis. The letter marks the first extensive public remarks from Vail Resorts about what exactly happened that day.

According to the letter, the gondola stopped operating around 8:35 a.m. that morning because a safety system had been tripped. One employee noticed “Tower 12 was leaning uphill and that the upper section had partially separated from the lower section at the tower flange.”

The analysis stated that 20 out of the 24 bolts holding tower 12 together had come loose; however, the hardware was not determined to be the “root cause” of the incident.

“The tower 12 foundation could have experienced downhill movement following its original installation in 1996,” Patterson wrote.

Consultants confirm the shift

Vail Resorts brought in consultants who confirmed the tower shifted from its original location “in a manner not detected by Vail or (Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board) during routine inspections because there had been no other indicators of any tilting, rotation, or other atypical forces.”

According to the consultants, the downhill shift created “an unusual degree of pulling force,” which caused an “unanticipated degree of stress on the connection at the lower flange in the tower assembly.”

Planning for the future

Vail Resorts has committed to conducting additional assessments on its gondolas and lifts in order to prevent these types of incidents in the future.

In a statement emailed to the Vail Daily, the company wrote:

“As a part of our ongoing efforts to be a safety leader in our industry, we conducted an in-depth analysis of this summer’s incident involving the Eagle Bahn Gondola at Vail Mountain. The findings show that over time, the ground shifted in a way that was undetectable by inspections, but significant enough to cause the failure that tripped our safety monitoring system, stopped the gondola from operating and resulted in an evacuation of some Vail Mountain employees. As a result, 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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