Twenty-five years ago this week, the Teller Lift bullwheel dropped from its encasement and sent a wave down the lift’s haul rope, flinging people from their chairs. At the time of the accident, about 350 skiers were riding the lift. Injured skiers littered the top of Keystone Mountain on December 14, 1985 when more than 60 people were launched from their triple chairs on the lift down the back side of Keystone, and 49 would be seriously injured. Two would die later from injuries sustained that day.
All available emergency equipment in Summit County was summoned as well as ambulances from nearby communities. Five helicopters from throughout the state arrived to take patients — often two at a time — to Front Range hospitals.
Within an hour, 49 people with injuries ranging from broken backs, broken legs and arms, ruptured spleens and collapsed lungs would converge on the Keystone area clinic. Another 11 would be treated for lesser injuries.
The Teller Lift was only in use for a year before the failure of the weld. It had a unique design in that there was no support beneath the bull wheel. Lift Engineering had explained when the lift first open that it did not need customary support and that “torque” from the pressure of the whole system would keep the bull wheel attached, along with the welds. “Faulty welds” would be blamed shortly after the accident.
The accident is listed as one of the major chairlift accidents worldwide since the 1950s, the beginning of the modern ski industry. Also on the list is a gondola derailment at Vail in 1976, which caused two gondolas to fall and resulted in four deaths and five injuries. While the Vail incident was found to be due to lift maintenance staff negligence, the Teller Lift accident at Keystone was traced to a manufacturing defect, present in all of the Yan 1000 lift models coming from now-defunct manufacturer Lift Engineering.