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.