Tales of Squaw Valley: The 1978 Tram Accident

SnowBrains |


Promotion fo the talk on the 1978 squaw tram accidentMaybe you’ve heard of the ’78 tram accident, maybe you were there, or maybe you want to find out more.  On the 12th of April the Squaw Valley Property Owners’ Association will be hosting an informal talk about the incident with first hand accounts told by those who were trapped and rescued.


  • When: 5:00-7:00 pm on Sunday, April 12th
  • Where: The Plump Jack Conference Center
  • How much: Free to current SVPOA members, $10 otherwise

Detail about the Squaw Tram accident presentation at squaw

For those who don’t know, the tram was nearly ripped in 1978 at Squaw Valley.  A large gust of wind sent a massive cable crashing through the cable car, injuring many and leaving 4 dead.  Passengers were trapped in both cars.  A heroic rescue mission went on into the night as ski patroller Jim Mott and other shimmied out on the cable and dropped into the cable car.

This is the first part in a series presented by the Squaw Valley Property Owners’ Association in an effort to preserve the history of Squaw.

Related Articles

22 thoughts on “Tales of Squaw Valley: The 1978 Tram Accident

  1. I was on the gondola with two children of friends. I continue to be grateful that we were rescued and always remember the families of those who died who will always carry the burden of sorrow for their deaths.

  2. I worked with a young guy that was on the gondola. His last name was Bob Palmer and had quite the story to tell. It’s been too long to report his story as I remember other than shocking.

  3. Michelle Sottile of Mill Valley,CA was exhausted from skiing all day at Squaw. She was so tired that she told our group that she’ll meet us at the bottom of the gondola. We said ok; see you soon and us 3 skied down the slope for the last run of the day, a very windy afternoon. We got to the bottom and heard the chatter that the gondola had had an accident. We talked to the lift operator and he concurred there was a major gondola accident also. We were stunned! Was Michelle on that fateful gondola? Well our question was answered right after we were still in shock! John, Laura Sottile and myself Rob were in awe as suddenly who came down the slope was Michelle! She had no idea about the gondola accident! We all gave her huge embraces and said she was blessed to decide to ski down after all, tired or not! What a tremendous relief it was that God allowed her the energy for one more run! Wow…

  4. I am writing a retrospective article about the hero’s that night and how a community came together to save lives. If anyone involved feels like contributing their eyewitness experience about the leadership and decision-making that they witnessed that night I would love to hear it. You can find me at: mikeselby1110@gmail.com.

    1. Mike; your email doesn’t work. Let me know what is the correct one. I was there, among the first on the scene and long time patroller at squaw. Doug Matteson; djmatt@pacbell.net.

  5. An employee with Squaw was overheard saying they believed there was some question about training of the employee on the tram responsible for hitting the brake. That’s this employee’s opinion. I am not one to spread rumors, so I would ask people to inquire about this possibility if they need to have an answer. This employee said that the “act of God” scenario did not apply. Personally, I believe that if this were the case, that the employee possibly lacked training and-or experience, that the employee should not feel responsible in any way. It is not their fault if Squaw did not provide rigorous training to prepare employees for this situation. Every employee involved was a hero as I see it. If anyone is to be blamed, it is those who dropped the ball with respect to providing proper training of their employees. A friend of mine almost lost a family member on that tram, that the person suffered a broken hip.

    1. A little late to see this post……it was posted over a year ago. My 7 year old son was in the cable damaged car with our best friend. Our friend died, our son needed 50 stitches in his head…..he was a lucky little boy. My husband and I were on our way up in the second tram car when it occurred…..we just hung there. Our car operator knew nothing about emergency procedures. Fellow skiers were responsible for our exit. They even thought of coppertone as a lubricant for the apparatus that we exited the tram from. It was a nightmare…..

      1. Wow. You were there… So glad your boy was ok. So sorry about your friend. My mother was skiing Squaw that day as well. Thanks so much for this.

      2. I was on the tram going up. We were lowered out at night. I’m on Facebook & am friends with a few others who were on my same tram. Someday we should have another reunion. We are the lucky ones.
        Lexy Loewenstein

        1. See my other message but am writing book on leadership and a chapter on all that happened that night and would love to get some of your perceptions. Please contact me when you can. My email is: mikeselby1110@gmail.com.

  6. Can someone PLEASE post here if this is a 2015 event or has already occurred in past years? I can’t locate a year on the poster/flyer or the blog. I was there that day and would love to have some of the details filled-in for me as it still haunts me.
    Thank you!

  7. SVPOA is grasping a straws to be relevant by exploiting others’ deaths and injuries. They have crossed a line of respect for those effected by this accident. They will drink their wine and tell stories which are marred in untruths.

    1. @Coyote: The SVPOA Board was approached by an individual that was trapped on the devastated cable car. At First we were unsure of hosting a conversation about the accident, after talking with many, we decided to support the talk. With that said, we did NOT want the story to be told by one person. We voted to go forward only if we could come up with stories from a balanced mix, telling stories of firsthand accounts; victims and those involved in the rescue mission. There were many heroes that night, including trapped passengers that helped the injured. It was an awful accident, there were injuries, loss of life and there was a community that came together to help. Many heroes came out of the Squaw Valley ski patrol. The valley is full of colorful characters, happy stories and events, and unfortunately some very sad. Our intension is to preserve the history of this place we call home, whether you own property in the valley or not. Those of us that have come to love Squaw Valley feel a sense of ownership and want the history of the valley to live long into future generations. The SVPOA is not telling the story, simply hosting the event. The stories are being told by individuals involved in the accident.

  8. I was one of the first on the scene. After helping with 2 stretcher carries I belayed the 3 dead including ski patrol personnel, Charlie, and others out of the tram (the 4th who died succumbed while being transported down to the base). Some aspects of the story handed down are incorrect and others, if ever known, have been forgotten.

    1. Rick; I was one of the others who belayed victims out of the car that night. As near as I recall I was one of the first at the scene, having skied over directly from Emigrant after we got the call. We got a rope over the cable, and then three of us hoisted the 200+ pound Squaw Patrolman ‘Chris’ up into the car. He surveyed the damage and then with his radio made the damage and injury assessment. We carried the last body in the rescue litter up and over to the gondola and got down the mountain at around midnight that night. There was a newspaper journalist from the Chron as I was exiting the lift and I gave him a complete rundown of it from my perspective. There was a lot more to the story than I post here. It appeared in the paper the next morning or morning after. I’m sure the story can be found in the papers’ archives.
      I had been patrolling at Squaw since the ’60 Olympics and continued as a national patrolman until 1981. I owned my home in the Valley, the ‘banana house’ until I and my family moved away in 1982.

      1. My father is actually the Chirs you mentioned. I agree with all of you, from what I have heard the patrollers were the first on the scene and should be given full credit for the rescue of all in the cabin. Although I am sure Mott helped to the best of his ability, he also took primary credit for the rescue while it was really the team of patrollers. They are the ones that should be thanked and remembered for their crucial help that day.

  9. Will not like this series.

    Folklore claims Mott was first to enter damaged cabin, he was not.

    Investigators were stymied at cause, a cable guid at tower 1 appeared pristine and unscathed leaving some to speculate was replaced prior to inspection.

    Counter weight could be heard and felt throught valley as it slammed into ground.

    Tram was operating in excessive cross winds. probably set a new standard for wind hold standards.

    Dr. Charlie Kellermeyer retired, set up triage and helped save lives.

    Desroyed cabin on private property northern nevada

    1. The 70,000 pound cable was secretly changed despite such a job taking over a month of heavy rigging and a large crew of highly visible workers?

    2. You’re right there are so many stories that have circulated over the years. From what I have heard the speakers are some of those trapped and rescued and the a couple people involved in the rescue. It might be interesting to hear from people who were actually involved. I for one would not write it off without hearing it first.

Got an opinion? Let us know...