Occupied Chair Falls from 49 Degrees North Lift

A chair carrying two guests up 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort detached this morning, causing minor injuries. The incident happened around 11:00 am on Bonanza #1, a 1972 SLI double with Riblet insert clips. “Both guests were thankfully okay with only minor injuries,” the Northeast Washington ski resort said in a statement. “The lift was stopped for about twenty minutes to assess the situation, the chair then ran and the rest of the guests were safely unloaded.”

49 Degrees North opened for the season one week ago on November 28th. Bonanza, also known as Chair 1, spans more than 6,600 feet and has been the subject of replacement speculation in recent years due to its length and age. 49 North is the largest ski area in the United States without a high speed lift. The mountain sold to an affiliate of Idaho’s Silver Mountain Resort in April 2019.

“We are investigating this mechanical issue and Chair 1 will be closed until further notice,” said the resort. “We will be working with industry experts and regulatory agencies to identify and rectify the issue.”


94 thoughts on “Occupied Chair Falls from 49 Degrees North Lift

  1. Calvin December 5, 2020 / 9:21 pm

    Uh oh. Several Riblet failures last year. Now this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • McQ December 7, 2020 / 7:28 am

      I rode chair 1 in 1977. Is there anything else at 49 which is this old? What could be more important to replace? I have used surface lifts in EU which are nearly as long as chair 1. Longer as two stage. They work great , are safe and affordable.
      No bank is going to fund a HSQ Dopp. Climate change makes it too risky.


      • Vintage Chairlifts December 7, 2020 / 9:35 am

        Their other 2 SLIs were installed the same year and I’ve heard of no clip problems with either of them. They also have a Riblet that was originally installed at Sun Valley in the late 1960s that hasn’t had clip problems.


        • Peter Landsman December 7, 2020 / 11:39 am

          The shorter two, Grubstake and Payday, don’t have clips but rather grips. Bonanza/Chair 1 is the only one of the three with Riblet clips. At least that’s how things were last time I visited. Interesting because all three were built the same year – 1972.


        • Charles Hlavac December 7, 2020 / 12:01 pm

          We run an SLI installed in 1973. Ski Lift Int’l (SLI) either came with Schnieder Model 66 grips or Girak grips (Austria), both external clamp-style grips that use belleville washers for tension on the rope. Both of these original grip types had some problems over the years, not to mention SLI went out of business in the mid/late 70’s. Riblet did not buy SLI, but they did purchase all the remaining inventory after they went under, and installed a few “Riblets” using up these parts. Bear Paw Ski Bowl, Montana is an example. A 1978 Riblet/SLI hybrid with Schnieder Model 66 external grips.

          I believe the conversion to a Riblet insert clip would have been a re-engineering due to a shortage of available Schnieder grips or an apparent problem with the original grip. Peter’s photos of the other 2 lifts show Schnieder grips, of which they have 2 different styles (one has a larger spring pack).

          The difference in these grips is likely rope size. Most Schieder model 66’s I’ve seen are 26mm or 1″ rope, the Girak grip we have is 28mm, or 1-1/8″ rope.

          There are a handful of SLI’s out there that have converted to Riblet clips. Orphaned lifts with no manufacture support.

          Liked by 2 people

      • Dennyblaine December 8, 2020 / 8:05 pm

        I rode it in 1977 and last Saturday. It shoukd have been replaced with a high speed quad years ago.


        • Frederick P Certano December 13, 2020 / 2:10 pm

          Any idea what that would cost and your lift ticket would go up in price. High speed lifts are double the capital costs with maintenance expertise and costs being significantly higher. Wall street resorts can afford them small resorts like 49 cannot.


      • theincsupport October 7, 2021 / 8:09 pm

        “No bank is going to fund a HSQ Dopp.” haha look at that now

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Myles Svec December 5, 2020 / 11:00 pm

    I think it’s time for Klondike Express to come. The question is does 49 degrees north have the money to build it?


    • Dennyblaine December 7, 2020 / 7:11 pm

      You know it really isn’t that expensive. There are several things 49n should do to improve.

      A high speed quad or two lifts lower/ upper to replace the current chair one.

      Replace all their little piston bullys will a couple really big winch cats that can groom faster and steeper.

      Expand that ratty old lodge.

      Develop a real marketing plan. A billboard in dpokane a a couple radio ads is not marketing.

      Develop a real ski/sport shop with ski tuning: including all custom options to attract more high end skiers.

      Give up the condo gig and build a flicking hotel.


      • pbropetech December 8, 2020 / 8:45 am

        ‘Really not that expensive’? A ‘really big winch cat’ can cost up to $500,000. A detachable quad runs around $5 million, or if they did two end-to-end fixed-grip lifts that would still run $2-3 million.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Michael December 8, 2020 / 9:52 am

          Anything is “Really not that expensive” when it’s not your money.😡


        • Sally December 11, 2020 / 9:03 pm

          No winch cats at 49 north

          Liked by 1 person

        • pbropetech December 14, 2020 / 9:18 am

          Kinda figured that- I was mainly referring back to dennyblaine’s comment about replacing 49’s groomers.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Frederick P Certano December 13, 2020 / 2:14 pm

        And whose going to pay for it? Fixed grip lifts $3-4M, high speed double that. Groomers $250,000 plus each. I retired from the industry 6 years ago Prices might be higher.


        • Jimmy dean December 13, 2020 / 6:19 pm

          I tested it Friday, Saturday and today. Its working fine so far. I will check more of the chairs next Friday for you all.


  3. Mr Incredible December 5, 2020 / 11:45 pm

    I recall that an unoccupied chair fell off this same lift a couple years ago. If they don’t get some capital for new lifts I don’t see how they can continue in the long run. Silver Mountain acquiring them isn’t going to help. They have the same issue: aging infrastructure, not enough skier days, no fresh capital. It’s a shame since 49 has some great terrain but I won’t ski there until the situation improves.


    • Anthony December 6, 2020 / 2:22 pm

      I think they’d probably be able to muster a SkyTrac if needed as a replacement. 49 has had investments in the past decade, including the Sunrise Quad and the Angel Peak expansion.

      Who knows? They might also be able to get creative and find an old HSQ somewhere, like Mission Ridge did (twice!). Not that I think that’d necessarily be a good idea, but Mission Ridge does have similar annual skier visit numbers and occupies a similar market position.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mr Incredible December 7, 2020 / 11:23 am

        I’m no expert in chairlift design but what about installing the skytrac and pair it with a loading carpet? Wouldn’t that allow higher line speed without the expense of installing a used HSQ like mission ridge did? A new HSQ is likely out of the question unless someone like Mountain Capital buys 49. Even a used HSQ seems like a waste. How many years did mission get out of their first one? 10? 15 at the most? Seems like a lot of cost and bother for such a short life span


        • Anthony December 7, 2020 / 11:49 am

          Yeah, Mission Ridge installed Liberator Express in 2005, so they got about 15 years before it needed a replacement. Definitely think SkyTrac + loading carpet is a better choice for 49.


        • Enumclaw kid December 7, 2020 / 3:05 pm

          This was my thought on the main 49N page, having skied there for the first time in February. Mt Baker and Red Mountain both serve similar markets with all-fixed-grip chairs and no deep corporate pockets. Red’s are all (or nearly all?) second-hand. Two new shorter fixed grip quads, with the unload and load at the current C-1 midstation, could be had for roughly half the installed price of one new HSQ. Or, one long one with a midstation. But if they can make it work, more power to them.


      • Dennyblaine December 8, 2020 / 8:22 pm

        Skytrac would be a great solution for both 49n and silver mtn.

        Skytrac has a great program for doing phased updated to lifts. They work with the area to keep the upgrades withing the budget of the ski area.


    • Dennyblaine December 8, 2020 / 8:08 pm

      Yup at this point anyone hurt by a lift at 49n can sue for huge bucks as ghe company has had plenty of warning that they need to step up maintenance and replace some equipment.

      They make plenty of money. They are just bad at managing things.


      • IDSKI December 9, 2020 / 9:35 am

        Pretty sure these resorts are not making “plenty of money” unless that just means enough to just pay the bills. @ $59 – $67 for a daily ticket, they are not raking in the money. $49 doesn’t even have any summer activities.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Myles Svec December 12, 2020 / 9:15 am

          I could see a lift served mountain bike park for the summer or an alpine slide.


  4. pnwrider December 6, 2020 / 3:22 am

    That’s terrifying… I went there last week and was gonna go again yesterday when this happened, but then opted for Silver Mountain at the last minute.


  5. Amanda Fields December 6, 2020 / 11:55 am

    How sad. Condominium plan; FAIL. Infrastructure updates; FAIL . Silver mountain financial help; FAIL.


    • Brian December 6, 2020 / 5:55 pm

      Probably going to get a lot sadder. This virus lunacy is probably going too deep six a lot of the weaker (cash poor) or smaller areas like 49 degrees.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dennyblaine December 7, 2020 / 8:17 pm

      Yup other then mtn spokane silver mtn and 49north are the two closest ski areas to spokane and the surrounding area. Add two that there are a large number of smaller cities around 49 north.

      An investment in 49 north should pay off, but the place is in desperate need of real management. Right now everything about the place is Bush league.


      • skitheeast December 7, 2020 / 11:09 pm

        Spokane is not a huge city, but it has a metro area with more than half of a million people and only one resort that I would consider to be first class (Schweitzer) while being surrounded by mountains that receive an abundance of snow. I am not saying every mountain in the region needs to have all lifts be detachable and receive a larger investment, but Silver Mountain and 49° North are likely the two resorts best suited to have a larger presence, yet neither has taken the leap forward. Red Mountain has noticed this vacuum, which is why they have had nice, modest investments in recent years that have made the mountain more attractive and worth the slightly longer drive.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Patrick December 7, 2020 / 11:32 pm

          Red is absolutely not focused on competing with 49N for Spokane skiers. A stronger 49N would be a great thing for Red, as it’s so close more tourists might fly into Spokane and visit both areas.
          I hope 49N can get this solved! Ideal solution would be a detachable replacement for 1 top & bottom, and another replacement lift just from midway up. But two new lifts is more expensive, and space at the summit is pretty tight.


    • Dennyblaine December 8, 2020 / 8:12 pm

      The problem is greed. They wanted too much for their condos and they did not sale.

      They have done feelers with lift companies several times but never followed through becuase the old owner wanted to package the money.

      Now the new owners are going to have to make an update

      Liked by 1 person

  6. skitheeast December 6, 2020 / 12:57 pm

    Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North are both in need of lift improvements and infrastructure investment. This is an unfortunate event that highlights how pressing some of their needs are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • vons3 December 6, 2020 / 4:06 pm

      I know bids had been submitted to 49 North for a lift replacement but that was Pre-covid.


      • skitheeast December 7, 2020 / 10:25 am

        I will believe it when I see it. Ownership said Silver Mountain would get high-speed chairlifts when they took over in 2016 and there have been zero. Since that group bought 49° North in 2019, I have little faith in them.


        • Dennyblaine December 8, 2020 / 8:28 pm

          It is a bunch of seattle cells that are really the investment company that owns the two ski areas. They are just looking to sell out to a bigger company like ski lifts inc.


  7. nobody December 6, 2020 / 5:38 pm

    Heard that they wanted to install the hsq this year, but “the people in Austria” didn’t want to ship the lift parts during covid (which implies it was going to be a Doppelmayr). Might happen next year, but they might not have the money for it either and may need to go the Mission Ridge route.

    As for what happened yesterday, one of the cotter pins which holds the chairs on the grip either broke or fell out (I’m not sure which). You can see the pin in this photo (https://skiliftblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/img_0295.jpg).

    I heard from someone that SLI stated only one of the cotter pin ends needed to be bent outward at a 45 degree angle to keep the chair on the grip securely, but rumor has it 49 decided to bend both ends on Chair 1’s pins this year for extra safety.

    During NDT this summer 49 tested 100% of the grips on Chair 1 because there were a few failures (likely due to a bullwheel abrasion design error), and replaced all of the faulty ones.

    Personally, I think the blame for this incident lies with SLI’s original design or the manufacturer of the Cotter Pin, not 49* North Ski Area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • IDSKI December 7, 2020 / 10:09 am

      All the planning was done before 49 was sold in April of 2019. I don’t think Covid stopped a new lift, ownership did. If Silver Mountain is any example, I wouldn’t hold my breath on a new lift any time soon. They were also supposed to build a mid-mountain lodge as well.


  8. Coloski December 6, 2020 / 6:10 pm

    Maybe they could use Peru from keystone, I bet it would come cheap


    • skitheeast December 6, 2020 / 9:02 pm

      I doubt it. Peru will likely either be reused as another lift at a Vail resort (perhaps even as Bergman Bowl) or be cannibalized for parts for a couple of Vail’s Colorado lifts.


      • Ryan December 7, 2020 / 9:18 pm

        Peru is 30 years old. She’s going to be scrapped. Chairs might be saved..


  9. Kirk December 6, 2020 / 7:26 pm

    Seems like your slighty out of touch. This is a SLI chair with a Riblet clip, not an SLI grip. Riblet chairs have been going around for 60 plus years. Same old story, either the clip was twisted out of the rope or the cotter pin was not installed properly.


    • nobody December 6, 2020 / 9:06 pm

      Sorry, I misspoke. It was a different lift that had the grips replaced.


  10. Parker Holden December 6, 2020 / 9:28 pm

    Riblet lifts do not have a grip, they have a cable insert.
    the insert is a forging and can fatigue crack. That is why they are subject to non destructive testing. If all inserts are not installed in the same plane there can be some axial thrust where the chair attaches. If the cotter pin broke where was the thrust washer? A new lift is not a good answer. Good maintenance is. Contact between the insert and the sheave tire rim can cause impacts on the insert and cause fatigue failure. Riblets are good lifts and new does not mean better. Old Timer

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Jim December 6, 2020 / 9:36 pm

    I was a regular there once, it’s just sadly gone down hill dramatically the last ten years, not to mention the snow pack while no fault of theirs of course has not been exactly the best as of late


  12. Someone who really knows December 7, 2020 / 7:58 am

    This fail was not due to a grip failure.


  13. buzz December 7, 2020 / 8:11 am

    In January 2008 I got yelled at for getting off this chair incorrectly. I believe that it makes this disaster my fault.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Peter Landsman December 7, 2020 / 10:18 am

    There is survey a stake with the word bullwheel on it next to Chair 1. Not my photo but taken yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anthony December 7, 2020 / 8:17 pm

      Any sense of what type of lift they’d be looking at?

      We obviously know the HSQ was mooted in the past, but that doesn’t really mean much. And with three new SkyTracs in the region in the past few years…


      • reaperskier December 8, 2020 / 8:01 pm

        My guess is a fixed grip quad.


    • Dennyblaine December 8, 2020 / 8:33 pm

      There is no way the lift company would not ship due to covid. They would not ship due to manufacturing slow downs if you were the lowest paying customer or were pushing a deal they did not really want in the first place.


  15. jaytrem December 7, 2020 / 8:02 pm

    So if they build the HSQ, who will be the new largest US place with out a detachable? Discovery? Baker?


    • Peter Landsman December 7, 2020 / 8:11 pm

      Discovery followed by Bridger Bowl, Silverton Mountain and Lost Trail.


      • Joe Blake December 9, 2020 / 9:46 am

        Unless you are including the gondola, which is true but kind of a technicality in relation to the actual skiing, Silver is bigger than Lost Trail. Baker is also slightly bigger than Lost Trail, according to the flappy internet box. So Discovery, Bridger, Silverton, Silver, Baker, Lost Trail?


    • Shitgenstein December 8, 2020 / 7:44 pm

      Good, thorough response from 49 N.


    • IDSKI December 9, 2020 / 10:14 am

      They mention upgrading to a “spring pin” system? I take it this isn’t something brand new? Is this incident going to cause places like Mt Spokane, which has some cool old Riblets, to upgrade as well?


      • Michael December 9, 2020 / 4:21 pm

        The ‘spring pin upgrade’ uses a spring pin, also called a roll pin (you can google it) that is inserted into the hole that goes through the end of the clip or insert. This has the mechanical advantage of fitting tightly in the hole as opposed to a cotter pin which has a looser fitting. A cotter pin is then inserted through the spring pin as an additional safety.
        This is not a new design for grip/carrier retention, although it was not original to Riblet.
        Hope this helps.


  16. Joe Blake December 9, 2020 / 10:03 am

    To play Devil’s Advocate to all the detachable evangelism here, as someone sorta alluded to above, an HSQ wouldn’t automatically do anything other than be temproary marketing buzz and then a possible strain on maintenance and financial resources. It could change the flow of the mountain, maybe slide some lapping toward the supposedly better lift, but if it isn’t a true lap chair, I personally think it’s good money after bad. A nice Skytrac like Chair 1 at Lookout may be long at over 6 grand, but not untenable. Much more affordable up front–especially if the phased install is used–and less long term investment as well. Let Schweitzer be Schweitzer. Part of the draw of Spokompton is it decidedly is not what so many other mid-size burgs try to be, and the same goes for places like 49N and Discovery and Monarch. Complain about them being backward all you want, but I’ll take lightly despoiled over flashy and touristy every single day of the millennium. Obviously, with places like Loveland and Bogus and Willamette that have one to many detaches, an HSQ or four doesn’t automatically make a tourist joint. I know this. But given that WIllamette has been tryna sell theirs off and on and Bogus always finances theirs (smartly) through the community, there is certainly evidence that a less star-turned gaze can keep stress levels and the odd WHY DOESN’T THIS FANCY NEW LIFT WORK frustrations lower. Another coupla my plumb wore out pennies.


    • Enumclaw kid December 9, 2020 / 11:41 am

      I am not an engineer; I wonder if the existing SLI towers would support the weight of triple carriers, with new terminals and tower heads/sheaves, for a lowest-cost upgrade via Skytrac’s upgrade program.


    • Myles Svec December 9, 2020 / 12:30 pm

      If it were to be a skytrac I would add loading carpets to allow it to be run faster. The ramp at the end would have to be steep because the speed of the lift though.


      • Jake December 9, 2020 / 2:39 pm

        You kind of contradict yourself. First you say a hsq would cuase crowding issues. Then you say to add the carpet you run faster i.e. more crowding.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Utah Powder Skier December 9, 2020 / 12:03 pm

    I’m not seeing the benefit in building a completely new lift when it would be easier to just replace the Riblet clips with a Skytrac grip and a few modifications to the existing carriers. If that bolt failure was the only reason the chair detached, then new grips would be all 49 Degrees North needs.


    • IDSKI December 9, 2020 / 12:23 pm

      They need to replace it to win back the trust of the public. With a chair falling off both this year and last year, I know a few people that said they are skipping 49 until it is replaced, no matter what repairs are done. There are 4 other places to go.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joe Blake December 9, 2020 / 7:33 pm

        Trust is complex and ephemeral. Earn it, lose it, it’s hard to know what will work. I definitely see the point of a full replacement, but if one is a critical thinker, there would need to be a full replacement of all Riblet parts all over the mountain to win certain folk, a replacement of all SLI parts for other folk, and entire overhaul of everything ever including the towel dispensers in the shitters for still other folk. Considering how many fixed grip Yans still carry people up the hill, most people are either educated–knowing that the problem with Lift Engineering wasn’t their fixed grips or drives or towers or, basically anything other than detach grips and the occasional splodey cast aluminium sheave–or ignorant of the nuance and technicality entirely, for the same end result; stand in line, sit down, stand up, forget you ever rode the flying couch. SLI and Riblet have possibly carried more folks in the PNW than anyone else. All this adds up to a scenario where one could easily study/focus group/survey/threaten/wheedle/whine for a decade or throw a dart at the Wall O’ Solutions and win or lose, with no possibility of accurate prognostication other than the same speculation we are all engaged in. I think the broadest spectrum would be convinced by a full rebuild (which is being hinted at for the not-first time by the bullwheel survey marker Peter shared via the ol’ twitter box), but I’m a curmudgeonly retrogrouch who is already convinced by the hybrid roll pin/cotter pin fix. In truth, we here are all more similar here than different. The public at large is finicky, prone to irrationality, and unmoved by logic or reason. Heck, some might think that the only safe lift is a tech binding, to which I say, “not my ACL”. And so on. I personally wish 49N and Chewelah the best, and I hope whatever solution they stick with is the right one. We need places like this in all economies and in all health realities. Random/funky/small/independent/not-for-profit/whatever > Vail/Powdr/Alterra/Boyne.


        • chasehausman December 9, 2020 / 9:00 pm

          True, Riblet (and SLI) have been around a very long time in the Northwest. That doesn’t mean there aren’t (much) better things available now. This incident may have been the straw that broke the camels back, but you can bet these two incidents aren’t the only reason they might want to replace Chair 1. The marketing will be improving guest experience, shorter lines, faster travel, etc. But the driving force is going to also be things like significantly decreased maintenance costs (parts availability, long term manufacturer support, better designs) and greater reliability (no threat of losing a critical part that is no longer manufactured or serviced, better tower designs to improve maintenance, better diagnostics information).


  18. Kirk December 10, 2020 / 8:08 am

    New lifts are always a nice upgrade. But if a $2.00 cotter pin breaks or falls out that’s a maintenance item, can’t blame it on the old lift.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr Incredible December 11, 2020 / 8:55 pm

      Do new lifts rely on $2.00 cotter pins to keep the carriers on the rope?


      • Jimmy dean December 11, 2020 / 9:00 pm

        I tested it today; 7 times. It didn’t fall apart any of those times.


      • pbropetech October 7, 2021 / 9:50 pm

        If you want to go down that rabbit hole, then yes. Every cotter pin/split pin/roll/pin I put in a grip costs less than $2. I’m not sure of your point.


      • pbropetech October 7, 2021 / 9:58 pm

        Sorry if that sounds salty. When you ride any lift, you’re relying on the design expertise of the manufacturer and the maintenance knowledge of the mechanic. Statements like this don’t exactly add anything to the discussion.


    • Ryan January 24, 2021 / 4:27 am

      From that article:
      According to the National Ski Areas Association — a trade association that monitors ski industry statistics — lift-malfunction-related injuries or deaths are incredibly rare. Since 1973, 12 deaths have been attributed to lift-related failure. According to the NSAA, an estimated 16.3 billion lift rides were given by U.S. ski resorts during that time. The last fatality was in 1993.

      Clearly they didn’t take into account the accident a few years ago in Granby, Colorado that threw that mother to her death.


      • Michael January 24, 2021 / 10:08 am

        Do we give NSAA a pass because their website had been updated and the reporter just regurgitated some old information he found?


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