New complaint filed against Ski Granby Ranch; State official won't discuss details

Resort under investigation in chairlift death

DENVER -- A new complaint has been made against Ski Granby Ranch, the Grand County resort that is already under state investigation after a Texas mother was thrown to her death from a chairlift during an apparent malfunction in December.

Kelly Huber, 40, of San Antonio, and her two young daughters fell 25 feet onto hard-pack snow when their Quick Draw Express chairlift swung side-to-side and struck a tower, according a witness and a report by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board. Huber was pronounced dead at a hospital. Her daughters were injured but survived.

"Engineers involved in the Board investigation of the cause of the incident identified issues within the chairlift's electrical drive/control system that contributed to a rare dynamic event that occurred on the lift at the time of the incident," according to the Jan. 9 Tramway Board report.

Now, at a Thursday Tramway Board meeting, staff members said a new complaint had been made against Ski Granby Ranch, alleging a possible violation of law or a state license. Because the tramway board regulates chairlift safety and licensing, the complaint would appear to involve a Ski Granby chairlift operation.

Yet both board members and staff said they could not release records about the complaint or discuss its details because agency rules require active investigations to remain confidential. Instead, the boarded decided to go into closed executive session to discuss the complaint.

Denver7 chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski challenged the board's secrecy.

"If there is an additional complaint about a ski resort that's operating today, about lifts that are operating that had a fatality on Dec. 29, if you are keeping this from the public you should be on alert that when we get those documents -- and we will fight for those documents -- we will ask for accountability," Kovaleski told the board.

Board Chairman Richard Burkley responded, "We'll consider ourselves notified, but it's an open investigation and we're not going to comment on an open investigation."

A Ski Granby Ranch executive also declined to comment on the new complaint.

After returning to open session, board members unanimously voted to refer the complaint to its investigation unit to gather more information, including witness statements.  

Meanwhile, the board denied Ski Granby Ranch's request for the state to test and approve operation of a new electrical drive for the Quick Draw Express lift that was involved in the deadly fall. The lift has been operating on alternative diesel power.

The board said a decision on the new electrical drive will remain on hold until the state issues an investigative report on the December lift malfunction.

Earlier this month, Denver7 Investigates aired a story questioning whether Huber's death could have been avoided and whether warning signs were ignored.

Two days before Kelly Huber died, a skier from Littleton made this post on Ski Granby Ranch's Facebook page, noting the lift was having frequent problems:

Decisions by state regulators following Huber's death are also worthy of questions.

State regulators gave the green light for the lift to reopen on Jan. 10 -- operating on backup diesel power with the electric drive disconnected -- even though the state's investigation into what went wrong was not completed.

And just eight days later, the state shut down the Quick Draw Express on Jan. 18. The second shutdown in less than a month. This time state officials said it was due to "unusual/irregular conditions in the performance of the diesel prime mover system."

"They're lucky there was not another accident during that eight-day period," said Jim Chalat, a veteran Colorado attorney with decades of experience questioning safety at state ski resorts. "Because it was obviously unsafe for some period of time after the lift was reopened and before it was closed down again."

Kovaleski asked Larry Smith, the state's supervisory tramway engineer: "Should that lift have been reopened on the 10th of January?"

"We did not see any indication that there was a tie in between what we saw later and when we allowed them to reopen," Smith replied.

"Were skiers and boarders at greater risk during those eight days?" Kovaleski asked.

"No, not at all," Smith answered.

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