Gearbox Failure Cripples Kimberley, BC

Kimberley Alpine Resort will operate differently for awhile without its key out-of-base lift. This afternoon, staff noticed unusual noise coming from the Northstar Express and cleared the line of skiers. Upon inspection, they found a bearing had failed in the gearbox. It will likely be a week or more before the lift can be repaired and reopened.

Northstar is a bit of a rarity – one of only nine high speed quads Leitner built in Italy and shipped to North America. “We have our team on this and industry experts are inbound to help us, but unfortunately we will not be able to run the Northstar Quad until it gets fixed,” read a statement from the resort. “Our current best estimate is that this may take a week or more to get repaired. We understand this will be very challenging for many people living in and visiting the community, but please know we are already doing our best to get it up running safely as soon as possible.”

The Northstar Express is Kimberley’s only out-of-base lift which provides access to the rest of the mountain. Three parallel reliever lifts were removed in 2001, 2003 and 2006, leaving no redundancy. Kimberley is making the most of the situation, however. First, the ski area will keep its backside Tamarack and Easter chairlifts running through at least tomorrow for those willing make the 1,000 foot gradual uphill trek to access them. Skinning and hiking aren’t for everyone, so parent company Resorts of the Canadian Rockies will allow passholders to visit sister resorts Fernie, Kicking Horse and Nakiska throughout the closure.

Readers of this blog will note gearbox failures occur occasionally at resorts of all sizes. Kimberley said Northstar’s gearbox was fully rebuilt less than two years ago. A handful of newer lifts in North America feature direct drive motors which remove the gearbox and some possible points of failure from the equation.

44 thoughts on “Gearbox Failure Cripples Kimberley, BC

  1. Brian January 2, 2021 / 8:24 pm

    Removing your redundancy….not a very tactically bright idea.


    • skier72 January 2, 2021 / 9:36 pm

      Buckhorn and Maverick needed to go. However, it was a mistake to remove Rosa (the Yan triple that went to Whitefish MT). Removing Rosa not only made lapping the terrain on that side of the mountain a pain (you have a long flat ski-out), it cripples the rest of the resort when Northstar goes down.


      • GreatEight January 2, 2021 / 9:39 pm

        Buckhorn is still standing


        • GreatEight January 3, 2021 / 11:06 am

          To my knowledge the chairs have been removed but the towers and bottom terminal are still standing.


        • Benton March 11, 2021 / 7:00 pm

          Buckhorn has been completely removed, has been for at least 6 or 7 years.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Collin Parsons January 2, 2021 / 8:44 pm

    Removing every backup to your only out of base lift is totally asinine. They are getting what they deserve. What they did would be like if Whiteface removed Facelift, Little Whiteface, Mountain Run, and Freeway, leaving the gondola as the only way to access the mountain.

    Liked by 3 people

    • GreatEight January 2, 2021 / 9:35 pm

      If you ever have actually skied Kimberley you would realize there is actually no need for another out of the base lift.


      • Phoenix January 2, 2021 / 9:44 pm

        This incident proves there is actually a need for a backup, even if it doesn’t run very often.


        • GreatEight January 2, 2021 / 9:49 pm

          from a cost standpoint its not necessary. I agree the existing lift is unreliable having spend a couple hours on a minus 20 degree day sitting on it and it should be replaced soon.


      • Michael ELHARD January 3, 2021 / 1:40 am

        Well im here right now. There is ZERO ways out of the resort without skinning or hiking so your comments are completely asinine!

        Liked by 1 person

        • GreatEight January 3, 2021 / 11:11 am

          You think a relatively small local resort needs to have a second HSQ lift only for backup purposes in the unlikely chance Northstar goes down?? That’s wild!
          Now Kimberley made a mistake closing both Buckhorn and Rosa as they would have provided access in a situation like this.


        • SummitSkier January 5, 2021 / 10:36 am

          I think Michael is not saying they needed ANOTHER high speed quad in the same place but a fixed grip quad or maybe even a triple would have been good planning. However, I would say another high speed quad that went to a different portion of the mountain but still allowed access out of base and to the upper lifts would be the best idea.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Tom January 3, 2021 / 10:20 am

      Peter, why is their so few leitner high speed quads in North America, thought leitner was a major player in lifts? Peter, happy new year, was at Jackson hole December 13 th and December 15 th, skied snow king the 14 th, the tram wasn’t running, oh well


      • vons3 January 4, 2021 / 1:30 pm

        Leitner sold something like 10 detachable lifts in 3-4 years before the merger with Poma, they just were not in the market long enough to be that common. Leitner pulled their lift products from NA after the merger as the standard equipment used in NA between the two firms was from Poma of America.


  3. bdrco January 2, 2021 / 9:19 pm

    Where are the other Leitner lifts in North America? I know Lara’s Gondola in Big White, and we have one in CO up in Granby, but how about the others?


  4. Dan January 2, 2021 / 9:40 pm

    Growing up on this mountain when it was city owned, I can say this is a glaring example of the disappointment that RCR has been to this community.


    • Tom January 3, 2021 / 2:09 pm

      It seems RCR has/had lift issues with a resort in eastern Canada, wonder if and when COVID 19 ends and resorts start expanding again, is RCR one of the companies that sells out to one of the big four?


  5. Myles Svec January 3, 2021 / 9:17 am

    They should install a HSQ with a capacity of 1,800 from the bottom of Northstar to the top of Tamarack. It would be a 1.21 miles long. It would be a great back up lift.


    • skitheeast January 3, 2021 / 1:17 pm

      That is not a backup. That is another primary lift. A backup would be fixed-grip and go up the mountain just enough so skiers can access Tamarack. This is a relatively low-cost solution to a problem that rarely arises, but it crippling when it does.

      It is always foolish for a mountain to be entirely reliant on one individual lift. Accidents and failures happen at unexpected times, and there always needs to be a plan B.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Craig January 3, 2021 / 6:02 pm

    Nope long gone


  7. Al January 3, 2021 / 7:03 pm

    I saw where they were offering discounted tickets if you choose to walk up to the base of Tamarack. Are you kidding me? That is a serious uphill trek whether you are skinning or walking. If you can make it up there skiing should be free. Also shouldn’t there be a contingency plan in place for this type of event? A week or more for repairs is unacceptable!


    • Calvin January 3, 2021 / 10:52 pm

      It would be free if no lifts were running like when the resort got shut down early in March last year. Only people who would bother going up to access the other lifts would be season pass holders. Taking ridgeway to the tamarack chair is relatively easy compared to going up boundary to the top of the quad.


    • pbropetech January 4, 2021 / 8:31 am

      Having been involved in quite a few gearbox rebuilds/repairs- including one similar to this early season a few years ago- a week is in line with what I’ve seen. Depending on how extensive the teardown is I’d even say it’s optimistic. They won’t know until they get into the box. Hopefully my counterparts are already tearing into it, assessing damage, and cleaning debris as they wait for new parts to arrive.


    • Marc January 4, 2021 / 6:30 pm

      Between the Kimberley problem, Winter Park, and the ongoing issues at 49n, it SEEMS like more lift problems than a “usual” season? Might we be seeing an impact of Covid-19?


      • pbropetech January 5, 2021 / 8:33 am

        How would the virus impact a chunk of steel?


        • Marc January 5, 2021 / 9:46 am

          Various aspects of maintenance and how the lift is operated could be impacted.


        • pbropetech January 5, 2021 / 9:53 am

          Maybe, possibly, but highly unlikely. We had a late start on summer maintenance due to the shutdowns, but we still got it done. In states and provinces with regulatory oversight, lifts would not have been licenced if they had not been maintained. If I was sick and couldn’t finish a project my coworkers would take over, and other ski areas operate the same. So far what I’m seeing is a combination of aging infrastructure and pure bad luck. None of the incidents we’ve seen could be related to COVID-19.


    • Myles Svec January 4, 2021 / 7:17 pm

      The people who were stuck on it only got a 5 dollar voucher…. They deserve more than that


  8. D. January 4, 2021 / 7:41 pm

    OK, I’m no fan of RCR (to put it nicely), but lets be honest, the cost of keeping and maintaining an extra lift for such a rare situation is really too much. Pass holders get a day at Fernie, which for most of them is far more worth it. The drive there is perhaps about 45 minutes I think. Kimberly is a really nice place but not a major resort and not I would guess much of a money maker. If it was only a $5 voucher for a wasted day, then not surprised with RCR and see that as a much bigger issue.

    Many mountains have only one main lift access – and gear boxes do go every so often. What is the option, have a spare gear box in storage?


    • pbropetech January 5, 2021 / 8:33 am

      Gearboxes are unique to each lift. To have one sitting in storage that’s been engineered for that lift, and that lift only, is a cost most places can’t afford.


      • D. January 5, 2021 / 6:41 pm

        Hi PB, I guess there was not enough ‘edge’ in what I wrote. It was meant, as you note, as being something rather unreasonable. My home mountain is Sunshine and they only have one gondi access. As they are a major resort I would not be surprised if their gondi spare parts room had a spare gearbox, but for 99% of resorts it of course makes no sense.

        Liked by 2 people

        • chasehausman January 5, 2021 / 9:16 pm

          I would be very surprised to see a spare gearbox at 99% of resorts. They’re large, generally custom, very expensive parts that can usually be pretty predictable as to when maintenance is needed.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Rick January 5, 2021 / 6:04 pm

    I’d be interested in seeing the oil sample they took on the gear box this summer. It should of showed something and given the resort some warning.


  10. LH January 18, 2021 / 10:19 pm

    its running again… would the gearbox delay have been shorter if it was a Leitner-Poma lift rather than a Leitner?

    Liked by 1 person

    • pbropetech January 19, 2021 / 8:47 am

      Probably not- both lifts have gearboxes from Europe. Poma uses Kissling out of Switzerland and Leitner builds theirs in-house.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Michael January 19, 2021 / 11:43 am

        Maybe. LPOA does stock some key components for their various gearboxes, but if you’re second in line there’s still a wait. Kimberley’s gearbox was rebuilt 2 years ago using components that had been stockpiled. They had a catastrophic failure of a 2 year old input bearing that severely damaged the high speed input gear set.

        Liked by 1 person

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