Mayhem in paradise
Editor’s note: Dick Hauserman is well known as one of the founders of Vail. But he also has made the trip from Denver to Vail in excess of 1,000 times, which was the inspiration for his book “On the Road to Vail and Beyond” published earlier this year. Following is an excerpt from the book aimed at making frequent I-70 travelers say “Oh, I didn’t know that!”Through the years, it has been relatively peaceful along I-70. However, since 1960, acts of mayhem and even murder have taken place.Before Ie-70 was extended over Vail Pass in 1972, there was only U.S. Highway 6, a winding two-lane road. Due to weather, reckless driving, speeding, air crashes, and fate, countless accidents have kept the sheriff’s department busy.Vail’s situation is much the same. In the first years of Vail, there was only one police officer, Claire Elliot. Today there are 30 officers.It is only natural that as Vail continued its rapid growth over the past 40 years, crime would creep in. Thanks to a splendid police force, crime has been handled reasonably. In the past 20 years, only one homicide occurred in Vail. When you think of Vail’s rapid growth, it is remarkable how well crime has been handled.Kurt Mulsen, patrol sergeant on the Vail police force for 27 years, said, “We have an outstanding reputation around the state. We still adhere to it’s not what you do, it is how you do it. That’s how we train our guys. We are going to enforce the law, but we do it in a professional, friendly manner and train our people decently.”Rapid growth has caused I-70 to become over-burdened with traffic. In 1960 few would have envisioned that in the future new and broader means of travel would be needed to carry the volume. Time is approaching when something has to be done.Gondola Crash It was precisely 9:18 a.m. on March 26, 1976 when two of Vail’s Lionshead gondola cars fell to the ground. Two other gondolas were left hanging by a “thread.” Four people were killed. The tragedy happened even though rigid rules and safety precautions were in place. The accident stunned the skiing world.Quick and heroic action by the ski patrol prevented what could have been a far greater disaster.At the upper terminal, as he stepped off, a tourist reported that the gondola was riding very rough, and a strand of cable was hanging down. He immediately rushed to two ski patrollers, Dennis Mikottis and Dave Stanish, in the patrol room. Within seconds, they had the power shut off and the emergency brakes on. Alerts were radioed, and the two patrolmen soon arrived at the site with a toboggan.As he was approaching the site, Dennis Mikottis thought, “What am I going to see when I get there? And what am I going to do when I get there?” With so much training for such incidents, he proceeded in a calm and collected manner.Soon after, another ski patroller, Chupa Nelson, made a risky ride on a bike down the cable and secured the dangling gondola with a chain, perhaps saving more lives.From the bottom of the mountain, Vail’s doctor, Tom Steinberg, was driven up in a snowmobile, arriving within 10 minutes. After a quick evaluation, the dead were put aside and the more serious were given priority attention. At the hospital, preparations were underway as soon as the injured arrived. The doctor said, “Things went along boom, boom, boom.” Everything was ready.The well-trained ski patrol knew exactly how to evacuate the people from the gondolas. Their performance was phenomenal. All the stranded passengers were removed by 4 p.m.The accident prompted a reevaluation of Colorado’s ski-transit systems and their security. Changes were made in many places, including the removal of Vail’s original gondola. Vail, Colorado
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