|Raton Pass Scenic Skyride
|Area Pictures from 1990:
By Bill F.
|The Base Terminal
|The chair's manufacturer DeRouen of
|Chair and hanger details
|A long span between
towers 5 and 6
|Pictures Taken in 2006:
by Brad C.
|Have you ever been to this area? If so,
contact us with your memories!
|"It broke on us in the summer of 1960 and I was almost 6 years old. My sister was 14 and
has a more vivid memory. It seems like I was around 8-10 yrs old when we heard about it
breaking and killing someone so it would have been in the early 60's. I don't know how
many people were killed. It was probably already closed before those travel books were
written. I'm positive there was at least one fatality but not sure it closed at the same time for
sure - but I really think it never ran again after that and my sister thinks so too.
It was in the Lubbock newspaper, which is how we found out about it. I
remember reading the article but can't remember the details. We lived in Lubbock, TX at
the time (both at the time of our accident and when the fatality occurred).
When we had our accident, we were taking a vacation to Colorado and
Wyoming and saw the chairlift and decided to ride it. At the time you could ride to the top
and walk down on a trail to return to the bottom. We decided against walking back
because a lightning storm was coming up and we wanted to get back to the car before it
rained. It broke not long after we got on to head back to the bottom. It broke on us at the
highest spot when it was starting over the hill/mountain. There was one chair behind us and
one in front. The one behind our two chairs (we had one with my mom and me and one
with my dad and sister) was close enough to the top to get them out and the one in front of
ours was low enough to get them off. We were over the 75 ft gully. They tried to manually
lower the chairs to a lower spot but every time they tried, the cable (and our chairs)
dropped and they stopped because they were afraid it would
collapse and drop us the 75 ft.
We had to stay very still. There was a lightning storm close by and they were also afraid the
lightning might strike us since we were in metal
chairs. My sister still remembers the exact time it took to get us down - 2 hrs and 20
minutes. They had to drive to a large town (Raton was too small at the time) to get the part
to repair it.
My mother had a movie camera and she took pictures while we were
stranded but not many since she had to do it with very little movement. I still have the film
on 8mm film. I may see if I can get that one on video and I can send you a copy so you can
see it. It might give you a view of how it looked then. I haven't looked at it in many years
but she captured the area around us and my dad and sister behind us. It seems like in the
movie you could see the activity taking place at the bottom with everyone trying to help us. I
think she just hoped that if we didn't survive someone could see what happened to us. We
were very fortunate to have made it down safely and without being struck by lightning in the
It was very creepy to see the lift remains last summer. We spotted the
remains on the top of the hill where the chair turned around. In fact I saw a cable laying on
the ground from one of the towers closer to the bottom.
There was a building at the bottom which was the same place that we got on and paid for
our tickets. (This summer we didn't stop because there was construction going on and the
roads were messed up - we were just glad to get over the pass and continue on our
vacation. Now I wish we had gone back but not sure what we could have really seen much.)
I really think it was probably shut down in the early 60's. My guess would be around 1963
Before I launch in to this account I wish to offer a few disclaimers. I am not an engineer, just
a pretty good mechanic. Nor am I an accident investigator or insurance adjuster. I'm not
one to trespass, and as much as I'd have liked to have seen the upper (drive) terminal of the
Skyride I wouldn't have known where or whom to ask. All this would have taken time I
didn't have, passing through on my way home at the opposite corner of the state.
I haven't researched any newspaper articles or accident reports, not easy to come by
considering this accident happened some time ago and is largely forgotten. Fortunately I
happened upon an officer at the NM Port of Entry who witnessed the accident. For now his
word will have to stand, confirmed by what I noticed about the base terminal.
As I said before, nothing about this lift inspires confidence. Since its construction about
1953 it seems to have had a history of drive failures and because of this, the attendants had
been told to only load every other chair.
On the morning of 16 June 1968 a large group of schoolchildren arrived, all anxious for a
ride. (We'll assume they bought tickets.) The attendant on duty caved in to their enthusiasm
and began loading every chair, overloading the lift. Whatever weak link there was in the
drive gave way, and the lift began a roll-back. The attendant, no doubt panic-stricken,
applied the brake. My photo shows it as a shoe forced by a cam into the groove of the
bullwheel. This stopped the bullwheel but not the haul-rope, which became unlooped from
the bullwheel and would wrap itself around the terminal frame. This is shown in my two
photos of the terminal. (The haul-rope would remain there for the next 28 years, when the
lift was dismantled.) No doubt the lift was brought to a sudden stop, dislodging a few
passengers. There was one fatality and five injuries. The lift was also immobilized and would
have to be evacuated.
Ski patrollers are trained in evacuating a chairlift by lowering passengers to the ground.
Such was not the case with the crew on the Skyride. Evacuation took the rest of the day. A
few chairs are missing, possibly lowered during the evacuation, or later stolen as souvenirs.
I had a visit a few years ago with engineer and ropeway expert Charles "Chuck" Dwyer and
asked him about the Skyride. He recalls being asked what spacing should be used for the
towers. He asked, what do you plan to use? He got this reply from one of DeRouen's
engineers, "We plan to use the same spacing as for (electrical) power poles." Overlooked in
this scheme is the simple fact that power poles aren't carrying a heavy, moving load. This
may have resulted in the need for extra towers, the "clothesline props," on that relatively flat
portion of the lift's profile.
"I don't remember a lot about the accident but I think only one person was killed. I was
away at school at the time. My next door neighbor owed the lift. They were sued and
eventually broke up the family. All members of the family are still alive but do not live in
Raton any longer."
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Pictures thanks to:
from 1990 Bill F.
from 2006 Brad C.