Ensuring safe transportation in mountain resorts: the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board

Millions of people ski, snowboard, mountain bike, hike, and sightsee in Colorado’s ski resorts each year. To move all their visitors around steep mountain terrain, resorts have developed unique transportation methods like gondolas, chairlifts (technically called “aerial tramways”), funiculars, tow ropes, and conveyor belts. To ensure the safety of all this specialized mountain transportation, the state of Colorado created the Passenger Tramway Safety Board.

An adult and small child ride on a chairlift up a snowy mountain.
Photo from Aspen Daily News, February 23, 2016. Accessed through the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.

The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board was formed in 1965 after efforts by the Rocky Mountain Ski Operator’s Association to regulate ski lifts throughout the state. The Board’s initial purpose was to establish a registration process for passenger tramways and collect registration fees, but the Board’s role quickly evolved to include setting tramway design and safety standards. In response to a tragic 1976 gondola accident in Vail, the Colorado General Assembly passed legislation giving the Board authority to hire a full-time supervisory engineer and requiring that new tramways be certified by a qualified engineer before use. Today, the Board licenses all passenger tramways in Colorado, conducts regular inspections of tramway equipment, and investigates any accidents.

The Department of Regulatory Agencies conducted a sunset review of the Passenger Tramway Safety Board in 2018 and determined that the Board should continue to operate through 2030, when it will be evaluated again. The sunset review report provides a great overview of the Board’s functions and Colorado’s tramway licensing process. More in-depth information about licensing requirements and the Board’s inspection schedule can be found on the Resources page of the Board’s website.

While preventing accidents is the Board’s main priority, they also require that resorts report incidents involving passenger tramways and conduct investigations of reported incidents. Through their investigations, the Board identifies contributing factors to tramway accidents, implements necessary disciplinary actions, and uses insights from the accident to inform safety guidelines going forward. The Board is transparent around the incidents that it investigates; final reports of the Board’s investigations dating back to 2017 are available to the public.

Next time you strap on your skis or load a mountain bike onto gondola, take a moment to appreciate the efforts of the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board and the resort’s tramway operators. Their commitment to safety regulations, conducting thorough inspections, and investigating tramway incidents allows millions to safely enjoy Colorado’s mountain landscape.

Miranda Doran-Myers
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