Four chairlifts and the gondola at Mont-Sainte-Anne will not carry passengers again until regulators receive a full report into last Saturday’s gondola detachment and the resort takes additional steps to ensure safety. Though no one was injured last weekend, the fall of the cabin was the third serious incident in three years on the gondola and follows numerous other failures and evacuations of lifts at Mont-Sainte-Anne. A nine page order issued today by the Quebec Building Authority (RBQ) prevents operation of the 1989 Doppelmayr gondola L’Étoile Filante as well as the mountain’s three detachable quads and one fixed grip quad. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s two T-Bars and other surface lifts are not affected.
“During the morning startup of the R-176 (L’Étoile filante) ski lift last Saturday, a malfunction occurred in the attachment of cabin number 92 to the cable of the lift,” the agency wrote in a press release. “The checks that were made before the ski lift was put into operation did not comply with the requirements of the CSA Z98:19 standard or the manufacturer’s instructions.” Z98 is the Canadian equivalent of the ANSI B77.1 standard for passenger ropeways in the United States. Specifically, the agency said the lift stopped itself that morning and displayed an “incorrectly positioned grip lever ± 10%” fault. “The mechanic dispatched to the scene carried out a simple visual inspection and authorized the restart of the lift,” the agency stated. Doppelmayr’s manual instead prescribes running the lift slowly in reverse, removing occupants if applicable and running the affected carrier empty through the switch again. If the same fault repeats, the cabin should be removed from the line immediately. Instead, the lift was quickly restarted in the forward direction and cabin 92 tripped another safety system on towers 23 and 24 before falling to the ground. Even though the lift had not opened to the public for the day, employees were on line and had to be evacuated.
The RBQ noted it has issued more than 25 correction notices to Mont-Saint-Anne since 2015. That year, an unnecessary rope evacuation occurred on the Express du Nord due to personnel having insufficient training. Also in 2015, a ski instructor and child jumped from the Express du Sud as their chair, stuck on a tower, was hit by other chairs. The lift continued moving despite the derailment and sustained significant damage. That mishap was blamed on “lack of maintenance.” Six days later, the same lift was rope evacuated due to motor and gearbox failures.
A pair of 2020 incidents on the gondola were both sudden stops that led to guest injuries, some requiring hospitalization. The RBQ noted that “shortcomings with regard to maintenance” were found and it took more than a year for the lift to be repaired (perhaps in part due to Covid). In addition to $1.5 million in upgrades, approximately half of the cabins on the gondola were decommissioned.
Today’s order outlined steps which must be taken before Mont-Sainte-Anne can return aerial lifts to operation. “For the R-176 ski lift (L’Étoile Filante), the RBQ requires MSA to obtain an expert’s report aimed at explaining the malfunction of the equipment and to apply the recommendations of this report, in addition to obtaining a security certificate signed by an engineer,” the agency wrote. “As for the resort’s other ski lifts that have detachable grips…the RBQ orders, among other things, to carry out the verification of the moving parts on all the grips and to obtain a safety certificate signed by an engineer.” Finally, the watchdog requires that Mont-Sainte-Anne submit a training plan to ensure that personnel know, understand and properly apply operating procedures.
Mont-Sainte-Anne’s most recent statement on the incident came yesterday, before the government’s order. “The operation and maintenance of ski lifts are governed by laws and standards that we must respect,” said Maxime Cretin, Vice President and General Manager for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Eastern Region. “Constant monitoring of the operation and a detailed maintenance log are required for all our lifts. User safety is a priority for our teams. We continue to offer our cooperation to the competent authorities who will continue their inspections a the beginning of the next week. For the moment, no hypothesis has been ruled out from the ongoing investigation into the gondola,” he said.
The RBQ noted that it does not take revocation of operating permits lightly but that last Saturday’s event could have been fatal. “Ski resort operators are primarily responsible for the safety of their customers,” commented Stephane Petit, Vice President of Client Relations and Operations at the Quebec Building Authority. “Our priority remains public safety. The reopening of the ski lifts will depend on the pace of fulfillment of the requirements set out in the ordinance by Mont-Sainte-Anne.”
Update: Mont-Sainte-Anne issued another statement tonight, 12/16:
“We were informed of the Order from the Building Authority that was issued to us at the end of the afternoon today. We will make every effort to implement the requested requirements and honor the trust of our customers. A review of procedures and training was already scheduled this weekend and additional inspections were also planned for the resumption of operations. Awaiting the final findings of the investigations, we are working on a safe plan to restore activities.“
It is important to note that without the Express du Sud (Bubble Quad) or the Telecabine, or even the Panorama (despite the 500m hike to reach it), the t-bars or fixed grip quad can not even be reached. They really have themselves in a pickle. Personally, I love the mountain but something has to give, and this can not continue. Very sad to see a once legendary mountain have its reputation and image utterly destroyed. I have faith that things will turn around but it won’t be quick.
Realistically I don’t see the Gondola reopening for a few months at this point, and until the Express du Sud opens, the rest will stay closed. Access to the North and Cote Ouest are only from the summit. I’m quite upset to be honest. I can’t stop thinking about MSA since last Saturday, it really hurts. Love the place dearly and always enjoyed staying at the Chateau Mont Sainte Anne (now Delta).
Wait, so they ignored a grip fault indicator, and just sent it anyway?
Manuals have specific instructions and steps for a reason, they’re not “optional”.
Quebec is right to shut things down for a review.
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Ignored a grip fault indicator and sent it anyway… sounds like the exact same mistake Whistler Blackcomb made in 1995 with their Quicksilver Express, and look what happened!
Disney also did the same thing when SkyLiner first opened, stacking up a bunch of gondolas at the exit of the station.
That wasn’t exactly what happened on Quicksilver, but the lift never ran again after that accident.
The fact that there were employees riding the lift at the time this occurred is a pretty damning new detail.
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RBQ, thank you for taking decisive action this time, and realizing that MSA management cannot be trusted with anything more than surface lifts. Please ensure the engineer inspecting and stamping their name on the equipment has no vested interest in the financial performance of RCR. Another recommendation would be to have the lift maintenance team of a non-RCR resort or Doppelmayr themselves inspect the detachable lifts every offseason, along with periodic unannounced observations of operations during the season, for the next few years until a culture of proactive maintenance and operations can form at this resort.
RCR, please sell or hand over management of this resort to the many other operators that place safety above all else. It is deplorable that your lift maintenance and operations take shortcuts on a lift with a history of incidents. The authorities standards are not there for you to meet, but to exceed. Detachable lifts are complex machines and although Doppelmayr makes excellent equipment, it is your responsibility to follow their warnings and directives to keep it operating safely. Please run all your lifts as though there are members of your family on every chair/cabin.
I wanna feel bad for MSA, but jeez. I hadn’t realized the extent of the previous incidents, and how similar they are. It seems like they are consistently struggling to maintain their aging detachable equipment, specifically grips and acceleration.
That’s…. Really bad to have as a problem. Especially given the context that they can’t afford to properly refit, as proven recently, and they aren’t willing to sell to someone willing to refit or replace.
Other similar incidents have been usually been one-offs. This is almost as bad as Yan’s grip failure rate.
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It seems clear RCR’s overall company strategy is to avoid the cost of lift replacements as much as possible. That could work if the budget and training were in place to maintain older lifts. It seems at least at MSA this is not the case. As someone who skis Fernie and Kicking Horse a few times a year and has a best friend who is at Nakiska most weekends with kids, what worries me is how much of this lack of budget and training also exists at their other mountains. Are the lack of significantly similar issues at their other mountains luck or is something different?
As stated previously. We have seen this exact scenario before on several detachable lifts. The lift safeties doing there job and a unqualified person making a decision to reset and run. One would have to believe this reset and run mentality is and common practice at that resort.
On the exit side of a detachable lift when a grip fault occurs the carrier must come to a stop on relatively level rope. That prevents the grip from sliding down the haulrope. Then the carrier can be brought back into the station for inspection. If the lift is restarted with the grip not properly closed, the grip /carrier will start sliding down the haulrope once the rope angle is steep enough to overcome any friction and eventually fall off.
Hmm! Are we missing something here? Were there not lift problems at the R.C.R. western operations last year? Poor M.S.A., it gets government subsidies? The golf clubhouse burns to the ground, and the lookout restaurant is condemned. Do we get the season pass money back? Hmm, and the old Chateau Sainte Anne got a 20 million dollar grant to fix their leaky roof and build a new swimming pool, and spa non of us can use and only accessible by the secret tunnel. I smell— Who is el vice president and president of R.C.R. Niel Jackson— John Shea? Where are they? Shame to Canada
I went to the Monte Saint Anne website to see what jobs are available. Amazingly they are looking for someone to take charge of lift maintenance. Its in French (use Google translate if necessary); you can read it here: https://mont-emploi.com/poste/conducteur-principal-de-remontees-mecaniques/
Apparently all that is needed is a high school diploma.
I imagine they will take down the job posting very soon. I PDF’s it for safekeeping. Do the same.
What’s the problem? I was trained to operate a lift in 1980. Point your index finger and press stop or go.
That appears to be a job posting for a lift operator, not someone to “take charge of lift maintenance”. Don’t see any need for a PDF copy.
Mont Sainte-Anne must be a total dump operationally !! After seeing the fallen Gondola cabin still laying in the snow and the ski area still closed ??
Never been there, but skies using the fallen cabin for a ski jump, come on.
Captain Kirk. It is the new world order.
R.C.R. ( resorts of the Canadian Rockies ) is lease operator of six ski resorts.
Last year 2021, when the North Star quade lift caught on fire ( Mysteriously), they reverted to skinning up the hill and using snow cats. ( I heard they gave back the season pass money.
At M.S.A., they reverted to chemical toilets to add atmosphere and unfortunately, their golf club house burnt to the ground in late fall.
Their goal is to save the planet, eliminate surface lifts, use dogsleds for grooming and increase government subsidies.
It costs money to remove a gondola that can be used as a ski jump. You want to much for your buck
Good stuff, love the analysis!!!