Fire Breaks Out at Kimberley Lift

For the second time in less than a year, the community of Kimberley, British Columbia faces weeks without a lifeline ski lift. A fire ignited at the Northstar Express early Saturday morning, burning the top operator hut. While outbuildings next to lifts are usually small, they typically contain electrical components critical to operation. Thankfully, the lift was not operating at the time and no one was injured.

The resort’s website shows the last image from the lift shack taken at 1:20 am, just before the fire was reported. While fires have occurred by accident at chairlifts in the past, police are investigating to determine the cause of the blaze. The town of Kimberley was already on edge due to another early morning fire which destroyed the Kimberley Gymnastics Club on December 14th and was deemed suspicious in origin. Police have yet to make any public statements about the cause of the Northstar Express fire.

The timing of ignition the morning after opening day and just before the key Christmas period is incredibly unfortunate if not suspicious. “Our hearts also go out to everyone in Kimberley who makes a living dependent on tourism and the operation of the ski resort, including the owners of many of the businesses in town, and the great staff who work for them,” the resort said in a statement. “Please know that our main focus right now is continuing to give locals and visitors access to the great skiing and riding, and to make visiting the resort as fun and enjoyable as we can.”

The Northstar Express is the only lift servicing the front side of the mountain and providing access to backside lifts. At one point, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) operated four different parallel lifts on this part of the hill including a triple chair, double and T-Bar. All but the quad were removed in the early 2000s to save labor and maintenance costs associated with lifts deemed redundant. A string of setbacks now again leave the resort with two functioning chairlifts on the back of the mountain with no easy access.

There is precedent for the workhorse Northstar being out of service. On January 2nd last year, the Leitner-built quad was rendered inoperable by a gearbox failure. Kimberley lift maintenance and Leitner-Poma worked on repairs, which were completed in just over two weeks. In the meantime, the resort stayed open with uphill hiking allowed to access the backside Easter and Tamarack lifts. A similar operation is planned this time around with the addition of ski/snowboard transportation for those hiking. “Our main focus of course is getting the Quad chair up running again as soon as we possibly can,” said Kimberley. “We are working hard to source any parts we can from around the world to try to replace what was lost.” In the meantime, season passholders are invited to ski at other RCR mountains including Kicking Horse and Fernie.

The Kimberley RCMP is requesting anyone with any information that could assist the investigation to please contact them at (250) 427-4811.

23 thoughts on “Fire Breaks Out at Kimberley Lift

  1. curtis December 20, 2021 / 9:48 pm

    they should get a new backup lift for the front because they got rid of all the old ones and this lift isn’t doing so well holding front of the mountain on its own

    Like

    • LH December 20, 2021 / 10:08 pm

      Couldn’t have been timed worse, because other than some sort of miracle it will be out of service all through the holidays. Not sure if a backup lift could have prevented this, if it is malicious, the idiot would have probably damaged any backup lift as well. Its nearly impossible to protect a lift… sea to sky gondola have first hand experience with that. I hope they get going soon, its another hit with another winter of covid restrictions hurting them, they dont need lift troubles compounding it.

      Like

      • LH December 20, 2021 / 10:27 pm

        That being said, installing a used lift, even a T-bar to access the backside lifts would not be a large investment that would pay dividends in these situations.

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        • Anthony December 21, 2021 / 2:58 pm

          I think a t-bar providing backside access would be a very logical play. Northstar is “only” 20 years old with only winter hours and after repairs will have plenty of life left.

          Like

  2. Andrew December 21, 2021 / 10:10 am

    Things happen, but every time I visit an RCR resort, I can’t help but think to myself how run down everything feels and they feel like the pinnacle of resorts that are there for the real estate and not the lift infrastructure. I wonder if the cause of this will be determined to be some hodge podge electrical repair.

    Like

    • Ryan Murphy December 21, 2021 / 6:08 pm

      I skied Canyons, so I can’t fully agree with your statement, but RCR certainly isn’t a premium operator. Everything feels budget at all the one’s I’ve been to. Which is a shame because Kicking Horse and Fernie are world class mountains.

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      • Fuck RCR December 21, 2021 / 8:22 pm

        And they propose master plan that don’t make any sense. They have run their mountains into the ground.

        Like

        • Connor December 21, 2021 / 10:51 pm

          “Your username checks out.” -Donald Reif, 2021

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Ryan December 21, 2021 / 12:22 pm

    They should have Kept Rosa :(

    Like

  4. Disappointed blue runner December 21, 2021 / 11:06 pm

    One article said lift manufacturer Leitner-Poma wasn’t answering the phone yet so fix is TBD (probably enjoying snow off working lifts). The situation highlights a few possible issues: no service contract to help in these scenarios? no critical spares? (Jan 2021 bearing failure ring a bell) and no one who can replace equipment other than manufacturer (in other industries you learn your equipment specs and identify who can provide alternate pieces so you don’t get caught with your pants down). Others are saying they should’ve held onto a redundant lift. Are the economics on a ski hill so horrible they can’t operate with any of these options? Or is the community paying the price of maximizing profit, knowing RCR can claim insurance bailouts? We’ll see how quick Leismer-Poma comes through… after they answer the phone. Hopefully this leads to some strategic thinking at RCR.

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    • Michael December 22, 2021 / 12:06 pm

      “One article” means one phone call was made…along with 50 other news outlets looking for a story. You can only answer one call at a time.
      Leitner Poma has a fully staffed switch board, even when the Company has their Employee Ski Day, which is in January. After hours there is a 24 hour answering service that is in direct contact with a Service Representative.
      There are multiple systems housed in the Operator House at the Drive Terminal that could have been damaged. The extent of damage will take a while to evaluate. I can guarantee that LP is in direct contact, if not on site at the Ski Area.
      The components damaged are not single source items and if the Area wants to source them from another supplier/installer they are free to do so, but you may be working with a Company that uses the components to run Wastewater Treatment plants and not ski lifts.
      Sh*t happens…even when under suspicious circumstances. If the wiring in you car burns up and takes out your entire electrical system I can guarantee that NO ONE will have it running the next day, even if it is the week before Christmas.

      Liked by 1 person

    • pbropetech December 22, 2021 / 9:02 pm

      To address your ‘critical spares’ point- there are items that, while critical to the lift’s operation, are typically and historically unlikely to fail and thus are not kept on the shelf in the maintenance shop. We don’t keep any gearbox or bullwheel bearings in stock either. It’s tough to justify buying parts that one may never use.
      We are also like your other unnamed industries in that we know our equipment and where we can source parts. Bearings are available in many places- I have half a dozen business cards from suppliers that way, for one example. There is, however, only so far you can go down that path. Ski lifts are specialised pieces of equipment and many parts are only available through the manufacturers.

      Like

  5. Doug December 22, 2021 / 8:09 am

    RCR really does a lot of cost control. I do not think it is that they are real-estate focused as one above said, but just that the corporate culture is to very much minimize costs and stretch out everything until the end. At Kicking Horse for example they really need more Gondi cabins, but no. Nakisa’s lifts really need good overhauls or some capacity upgrades – but no. RCR (and Lake Louise which used to be part of RCR and has much of the same culture) are also very much run ‘by the book’. No uploading until exactly 9am even if everything is ready. Nakisa does not operate the high T-bar anymore due to risk management. Louise renovated the old Yan triple a few years ago instead of doing a very needed replacement to HSQ (no high speed lifts from the back to front side). I think it is just corporate culture that works for them at least in the short term.

    For Kimberly, by bet is a heater left on or electrical fault …

    TME

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  6. Donald Reif December 22, 2021 / 11:01 am

    Honestly, I think that the simplest solution would be to put a high speed quad on the old Buckhorn alignment.

    Like

    • Name Checks Out December 22, 2021 / 10:25 pm

      Why stop at high speed quad? They should go for a 10 person chondola with 8 seat heated leather bubble chairs. D-Line of course. Definitely a screen.

      Like

  7. Somebody December 22, 2021 / 5:54 pm

    The issue is that it’s hard to justify installing a lift that is pure redundancy for a high speed quad with low crowds. In the early 2000s they had 3 redundancy lifts in addition to the quad: Buckhorn (an ancient Murray-Latta double), Maverick (a tbar of unknown age/manufacturer, and Rosa (1990 yan triple). They 100% should have kept one of them, probably the Murray-Latta, but that ship has sailed at this point.

    Now, the cheapest approach to solve this would be a surface lift up the bottom 2/3 of the front side, allowing you to ski over to Tamarack and Easter. Honestly, I doubt they’ll even do that though. RCR is famous for being cheap if you’ve ever skied at any of their resorts.

    Like

    • meirk December 23, 2021 / 2:40 pm

      Why the Murray-Latta?

      You mentioned the Yan is younger, and as far as I know Yan closed later and has built more lifts.

      Like

      • Somebody December 23, 2021 / 11:05 pm

        The Yan triple was way overkill as soley a backup lift for Northstar. It was 9 years old when Northstar went in and wasn’t just going to stay and run low hours in that spot. They ended up selling it and it ended up at Whitefish. It would’ve been a bit crazy for them to have kept it.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. LH December 28, 2021 / 9:10 pm

    Sounds like its a goner for the season at this point. Hats off to them for running cats, but the capacity of them every 20mins is what the quad would have hauled every 30 seconds. Going to be a long winter for all the Kimberlites.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pbropetech December 29, 2021 / 11:07 am

      It’ll be a bit for sure. Installing an entirely new drive and control system, not to mention lead time to get them, isn’t a quick process. Building the control system is fairly labour-intensive and once it’s on site, it has to be wired to the rest of the lift and all circuits tested individually. Then there’s the empty run process to ensure it works for real, then the full load test.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Justincase January 12, 2022 / 12:01 pm

    Any status report on repairs to Northstar Express? Will it sun again this season?

    Liked by 1 person

    • LH January 12, 2022 / 10:43 pm

      their twitter: “After a huge effort by KAR & RCR technical staff & industry partners it is becoming clear that due to the extent of the damage & worldwide availability of parts & components the Quad will not be running again this winter.”

      Liked by 1 person

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