Replacing a Crossarm in the Middle of Winter

Big White is a ski resort that lives up to its name.  Like many of its counterparts in British Columbia, the upper mountain gets pummeled by Pacific storms leaving trees and lifts looking like “snow ghosts” all winter.  On January 27th, Doppelmayr issued a service bulletin due to cracks found on the crossarms of depression towers of lifts in California, Colorado and New Hampshire.  Big White crews found damage to tower 14 of the Gem Lake Express and took the lift out of service on January 28th.

A storm coats the Gem Lake Express in feet of rime January 27, 2016.  Photo credit: Michael Ballingall

More than 8,000 feet long and rising 2,300 feet, Gem Lake accesses a huge portion of Big White’s terrain.  The detachable quad lift was built by Doppelmayr in 1996 and has 24 towers.  Tower 14 sits about two thirds of the way up the line at 5,914 feet in elevation. Gem Lake has a parking rail for some of its 128 chairs at the bottom terminal but not for the entire line.

Mountain operations folks making it happen.  Here, the Big White grooming team hauls a forklift to the site of the damaged tower.  Photo credit: Michael Ballingall

After the cracks on tower 14 were discovered, Doppelmayr fabricated a new crossarm in St. Jerome and shipped it from Quebec early last week.  Of course, the 20-foot long, 2.5 ton part got stuck in a winter storm of its own and ended up taking 119 hours to cross Canada. Meanwhile, Big White maintenance staff rigged the haul rope and removed the broken crossarm.

Tower 14’s new top headed up the mountain by snow cat at 1:30 pm yesterday.  A team worked through the night and had the whole thing put back together by 9:00 am Saturday.  A couple more hours of adjustment and testing and Gem Lake reopened to happy skiers in time for lunch.

Mechanics re-attaching sheave assemblies.  Somebody buy these guys a beer!

Gem Lake Express was down for a total of eight days – not bad considering the component that failed.  This story shows how it takes a village to get a lift back up when something major breaks.  Great work by the employees of Big White, from lift maintenance to grooming and even marketing.

Doppelmayr’s service bulletin requires inspections of all depression towers by 2/5 or 3/1 depending on vintage.  I’m told 4 of the 5 lifts found to have cracks were built between 1994 and 1998.

This story initially reported the cracks were found as a result of the snowstorm on Jan 27th.  It has been updated to reflect that the service bulletin was issued as a result of the three other lifts with cracks found earlier in CA, CO and NH.

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