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Lift Engineering

Lift Engineering, more commonly known simply as Yan was one of the major ski lift manufacturers in North America, prior to the firm's bankruptcy in 1996. Yan-built lifts are regarded as having a very poor safety record in North America, having killed five people.

Jan Kunczynski, a Polish immigrant and former ski racer founded Lift Engineering in 1965, after leaving Poma to build his own ski lifts. One of his first customers was Squaw Valley, USA in California.

The name "Yan" is the brand Mr. Kunczynski sold his lifts under. It is the English spelling of his first name, Jan.

The company grew through the 1970s and 1980s, mostly because of Mr. Kunczynski’s good salesmanship. The engineer shared his visions over après ski meals, and drew his designs on paper napkins. Apparently, he kept the napkins, and once he got back to Carson City, Nevada, where Lift Engineering was based, from the prospective buyer’s resort, the design on the napkin would be on that afternoon’s production schedule.

Another attractive feature to buyers was the price. Mr. Kunczynski sold his lifts at prices well below those of larger manufactuers.

Mr. Kunczynski is also credited with being the first manufacturer of ski lifts to incorporate aesthetics into the design of his equipment, creating sleek designs that were popular with ski resorts.

By the late 1980s, Lift Engineering was the largest supplier of ski lifts based in North America.

An example of a Yan triple chair

Problems with Yan lifts began to surface as early as 1985, when the upper bullwheel on the Teller lift at Keystone, Colorado literally fell off its axle. Faulty welding was blamed. Two people were killed and 47 injured. The lift was rebuilt by Yan as the Ruby lift- presumably free of charge.

Lift Enginneering plunged head first into a new market in 1986, the high-speed detachable quad lift. Whereas the European ski lift firms spent upwards of two years developing these lifts, Yan installed its first in 1987, at Mammoth, California.

Unfortunately, Les Ogalik, the company’s chief engineer who was responsible for making sure Mr. Kunczynski’s innovations were safe, quit during the development of the detachable lift. Les Ogalik is now president of POL-X West, an engineering firm.

During the late 1980s, the Colorado Tramway Board began to question the safety of Yan’s lifts. It surfaced that Mr. Kunczynski, in his drive to build affordable ski lifts, regularly sent steel parts to be welded together in ski area parking lots. The Board alleged that Mr. Kunczynski’s lifts were completely unsafe- which is debatable. The ski industry blasted the Board and continued to install Yan lifts. Nevertheless, the board continued protesting and managed to keep Yan detachable quad lifts out of Colorado.

Towers and chairs on a Yan triple lift.

The only Yan high-speed lift ever installed in Colorado was a gondola lift at Keystone, which only operated for two years because of recurring mechanical problems.

Despite questions about safety, Yan managed to sell a total of 31 high-speed quads in the United States and Canada. Loyal customers unfortunately learned later that the lifts were riddled with mechanical quirks and problems, as well as being unsafe.

Yan lifts were considered to be the "in thing" by the ski industry right up until around 1993.

Yan detachable lifts were subject to a series of disastrous accidents, the most famous of which was on the Quicksilver lift at Whistler-Blackcomb Resort in British Columbia, Canada. The Quicksilver accident killed two and injured 70.

The main problems which caused the accidents were the chair grips. On a detachable lift, the cable runs faster then most skiers can board or disembark from the lift. Therefore, the chairs must be slowed down in the terminals to allow passengers to get on and off. This is done by releasing the chair grip from the cable. After the grip is released from the cable, the chair must be gradually decelerated, to prevent damage. On Yan lifts, the distance allotted for chair deceleration was shorter then that on other lifts. After a only few years of being jolted to a near halt, the grips would eventually begin to crack and slip.

An example of a later model Yan high-speed quad lift

Unfortunately, the majority of state lift inspectors were complacent in detecting these problems. It has been proven that the Government of British Columbia knew about the problems on the Quicksilver lift, and refused to do anything about it.

All 31 Yan high-speed quads have either been retrofitted or torn down.

Lift Engineering also dived headlong into another market in the early 1990s- the funitel. The quad mono cable or QMC funitel was invented by Mr. Kunczynski himself (US Patent 4,848,241). The lift consisted of four separate loops of cable, strung between the upper and lower stations. Two cables were run in the uphill direction, and two were run in the downhill direction. The cabins would be mounted between the cables. But, because the cables were looped, once the cabins reached the upper station, the cables would loop back downhill not carrying a load. Only one of these lifts was ever built, at June Mountain, California. Apparently, the owners had quite a time getting the cables to run synchronized. The lift also developed the grip problems that occurred on the Yan high-speed quads, and was removed in 1997.

Lift Engineering filed for bankruptcy in 1996, after the Quicksilver accident.

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