Sea to Sky Gondola to Reopen June 11th

Two intentional haul rope cuts and a global pandemic aren’t keeping British Columbia’s Sea to Sky Gondola from its mission of carrying guests high above Howe Sound. The lift will once again open to passengers a week from Friday with enhanced health and security measures in place.

The gondola was forced to close September 14th, 2020 when its haul rope was intentionally cut. Shockingly, this was the second such crime mirroring a similar incident in August 2019. The gondola first reopened Valentine’s Day 2020 only to be shuttered again by the pandemic the very next month. It reopened for a second time amid Covid last May, catering to locals and passholders. After the cable was cut a second time, Fatzer again worked to provide a new haul rope while CWA manufactured 25 new cabins. “Needless to say, the past eight months have been extremely challenging for everyone,” read a reopening announcement on the Sea to Sky website. “We would like to thank our fantastic Sea to Sky community and industry partners who, despite their own challenges, have supported us every step of the way.”

“We have implemented extensive updates to our security system, including a professional in-house security team; 24-hour surveillance of all infrastructure and refined our detection and response capabilities in partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” said the gondola. “Our security architecture is extraordinary in the lift industry and has evolved after extensive consultation with security experts. We will not be disclosing all of the details of our security system; however, by design, we will provide a safe experience for everyone.” 

The gondola will continue to adhere to all Covid public health orders and travel advisories as it reopens, hopefully for good. A $250,000 reward remains in place for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the 2019 and 2020 downings.

Three Arrests Made in Italy Tramway Disaster

The owner and two employees of the Stresa-Mottarone cable car operating company were arrested overnight, charged with manslaughter and intentional removal of precautions against accidents at work. Prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said two devices were found blocking the crashed cabin‘s emergency track rope brakes in the open position. Company owner Luigi Nerini, engineer Enrico Perocchio and service manager Gabriele Tadini admitted this had become common practice to avoid downtime when brakes were malfunctioning. The brakes on cabin 3 had reportedly not been operable since April 26th. “It was a conscious choice dictated by economic reasons,” said Bossi, who is coordinating the criminal investigation. “The ropeway should have remained stopped until the problem was fixed.” One of the so-called forks was found still attached to cabin 3’s brakes and the other located on the ground nearby. The bright red devices are intended to be used during unmanned operation or for maintenance purposes. Brakes were not blocked on the other cabin sharing the same haul rope and that car was safely stopped and evacuated.

There’s no indication the underlying failure of the haul rope system was intentional and that remains the focus of a technical investigation. The haul rope loop was made up of two sections, an upper and lower, socketed to each of the cabins.

The crash killed 14 people and seriously injured a 5 year old child named Eitan. His condition was said to be improving Wednesday. Both his parents, his 2 year old brother and two great grandparents all perished along with 9 other passengers.

14 Dead in Italian Tram Crash

A cabin from the Stresa-Mottarone tramway fell on Sunday, killing 14 people and critically injuring a five year old child. The cable car is located west of Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region near Italy’s border with Switzerland. The affected cabin came to rest about 1,500 feet from the tramway’s summit, which lies at an elevation of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet).

The two section tramway system was built in 1970 by Piemonte Funivie, an Italian manufacturer later absorbed by Agudio. Leitner renovated both lifts between 2014 and 2016 at a cost of €4.4 million. The twin tramways opened for the current season April 24th following an extended Coronavirus-related closure. Each of four 40 passenger cabins rides along a single track rope and is driven by a haul rope. Today’s accident occurred on the second section, which has two cabins that travel in opposite directions between the middle and summit stations. Cabin number 3 is the one which came to rest crumpled near tower 3. The other cabin which shares the same haul rope was safely evacuated by rope just uphill of the intermediate station.

“We are trying to understand what has happened, but it is a truly terrible tragedy,” said Minister of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility Enrico Giovannini. Helicopters assisted with the rescue and recovery operation. A fire engine driving to the site overturned but there were no injuries from that mishap. The incident is the deadliest involving an Italian aerial lift since 1998, when a US military aircraft hit a tramway, killing 20.

“I learned with deep sorrow the news of the tragic accident of the Stresa-Mottarone cable car,” said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in an evening statement. “I express the condolences of the whole Government to the families of the victims, with a special thought for the seriously injured children and their families.”

Late Sunday night, the Ministry of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility announced the formation of an investigative commission due to the seriousness of the incident. The ministry confirmed a general overhaul of the ropeway was completed in August 2016. Rope inspections were carried out in July of 2017 and again in November and December of 2020. Specifically, magnetic tests were carried out on the track ropes, haul ropes and rescue ropes in November that year. Finally, in December 2020, a visual inspection of the tension ropes was carried out by a specialized contractor.

On Monday, the 14 victims were identified, ranging in age from 2 to 82 and hailing from Italy, Israel and Iran. The regional prosecutor announced a criminal inquiry, stating preliminary indications are the haul rope failed and emergency brakes on cabin 3 did not engage. He confirmed track rope brakes on cabin 4 functioned as designed. Neither cabin had an attendant inside, which was permissible under European regulations.

Leitner Ropeways issued a statement Monday afternoon expressing condolences and confirming recent inspections that took place:

Leitner later released more information about its maintenance contract with tramway operator Ferrovie del Mottarone with specific dates:

  • Maintenance and inspection of the vehicles’ hydraulic braking systems: 3 May 2021
  • Non-destructive tests on all of the system’s mechanical safety components as part of the quinquennial overhaul. These tests were due in August 2021 but were brought forward to 29 March – 1 April 2021
  • Performance tests on the entire drive system: 18 March 2021
  • Lubrication and checks on the running rollers and sheaves in the stations: 4 and 5 March 2021
  • A test simulating a hauling rope breakage activating the track rope brakes – carried out on both vehicles on 1 December 2020
  • Regular magnetic-inductive testing on the hauling ropes (and all ropes of the installation) as per the provisions of Ministry of Transport Executive Decree No. 144 of 18 May 2016 (testing carried out once a year) with positive results: 5 November 2020

Chair Falls from Camelback’s Sullivan Express

A chair fell from the Sullivan Express at Camelback Resort in Pennsylvania today along with three passengers who were riding in it. Pictures posted to social media show a significant patrol response as well as ski and snowboard gear surrounding the chair on the ground. A local dispatch log notes a call came in at 3:39 pm for a 40 year old male with back and hip injury, a 12 year old male with an arm injury and a 9 year old female with an abdominal injury. The entire west side of the resort was closed for the remainder of the day. Weather in the area was reportedly good with sunny skies, light winds and temperatures in the 50s.

The lift involved is a 1995 Doppelmayr detachable quad with DS series grips. It operates in winter as well as summer for water park operations. While Doppelmayr detachable lifts have an excellent safety record, other instances of chairs falling have occurred. A 2015 incident on Mt. Bachelor’s Sunrise Express was blamed on component failure. At Thredbo, Australia, quad chairs fell in both 2016 and 2019 from the Gunbarrel Express due to windy conditions.

As of Monday morning, the Sullivan Express remains closed with the Bailey double operating in its place. Sullivan’s sister lift, the Stevenson Express, is operating normally.

Camelback released the below statement Monday afternoon:

Camelback issued a second statement the morning of Tuesday, March 23rd:

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry confirmed to me it is investigating the incident but declined to provide further information. “The results of the investigation are not considered a public document,” an agency spokesperson noted.

Mont-Sainte-Anne Gondola to Reopen

367 days since technical problems forced its closure, L’Étoile Filante is reopening at Mont-Sainte-Anne. The gondola suffered not one but two incidents in February and March of 2020 before Covid paused skiing globally. Over the past many months, the resort, Doppelmayr and the Government of Quebec have worked to resolve unspecified technical challenges.

“We have just received approval from the Régie du bâtiment du Québec, which has given the green light for an official reopening,” said Maxime Cretin, Vice President and General Manager, Eastern Region for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. “This approval was received following the security and compliance clearance obtained from the contract engineers. It confirms that the ski lift is safe and fully functional. We would like to sincerely thank you for your patience, understanding, resilience and loyalty through this difficult time. We know the wait has been long and the journey has been strewn with disappointments. Today, we are happy to share this good news with you and to finally be able to turn the page. We would also like to thank all of the employees and stakeholders for their continued collaboration in this very complex case.”

For the rest of this season, the gondola will operate with 50 percent of its cabins (45 of 90) with Covid loading protocols in place.

Chair Pileup Shutters Big Squaw

Multiple chairs slipped this afternoon at Maine’s Big Squaw Mountain, necessitating a rope evacuation of the Donaher triple. Pictures show at least three groups of chairs spaced at abnormal intervals on the light side of the lift. Sam Shirley was on the triple chair at the time and provided me with the below account and pictures.

“I was riding the triple at Big Squaw around 1:00 when I noticed chairs coming down which had slid into each other. About two minutes later, the lift stopped. We were told that there was a partial derailment on the downhill side near the summit (likely tower 9 or 10).  I’m not sure what caused the chairs to slide into each other or why the lift didn’t stop immediately. Maybe they were catching in something or hitting a tower. Everyone was evacuated by rope within an hour and the staff did a great job. They had three different teams evacuating people. We were given vouchers to use later in the season.”

Sam Shirley

Donaher is a 1986 Borvig triple rising 587 vertical feet. An organization called Friends of Squaw Mountain operates the lift on a nonprofit basis. Back in 2004, another chair-slipping incident caused multiple injuries on the Thompson double. In that case, one of the chairs fell to the ground rather than remaining on the rope. The Stadeli-built lift never reopened but a Louisiana-based investor recently joined with a Maine developer in hopes of revitalizing the mountain with new lifts, a hotel and summer activities.

Thankfully there were no injuries reported today. It was only the mountain’s fourth day operating this season due to snow conditions and the lift opened later than normal because of cold temperatures. Big Squaw will remain closed at least through the holiday weekend.

Massachusetts Orders Blue Hills Ski Area Closed

Blue Hills Ski Area has been temporarily shuttered following two lift-related incidents. On Monday, a seven year old child fell out of a chair and was airlifted to a local hospital. Three days later, riders jumped from chairs during an extended breakdown of the lift. Other patrons were roped down by ski patrol and still more offloaded under the lift’s own power. The ski area said the first incident was not the result of a mechanical problem and the lift was fully operational at the time.

Ski Blue Hills Management, LLC operates the mountain through an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation. The chairlift involved is a 1978 Hall double which has been operated by the current lessee since 2007. In a letter obtained by a local TV station, a DCR official wrote, “The Ski Area shall remain closed until such time that the Ski Blue Hills Management LLC can satisfactorily demonstrate that all issues affecting the safety and integrity of the tramway, including any necessary corrective actions, have been addressed by Ski Blue Hills Management LLC, documentation of such has been provided to the satisfaction of DCR, and DCR approves reopening the facility to the public.”

“Blue Hills Ski Area will remain closed today as we await the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to complete inspection of our double chair,” notes a statement posted on the resort’s website. “We have worked closely with the Commonwealth and provided everything they have requested. We are excited to reopen immediately upon completion of that inspection process.”

Update: A third party inspector and state inspector both completed safety inspections of the lift. The Massachusetts Recreational Tramway Board cleared Blue Hills to reopen on Sunday 1/31.

Indianhead Lift Closed Following Incident

An occupied chair fell from the Leelinaw lift at Indianhead Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula yesterday according to multiple sources. When reached for a statement, Big Snow Resort, which operates Indianhead along with Blackjack Mountain, confirmed there was an incident but declined to comment on specifically what happened. “We are working with the skiers. The lift is operational but not in use today and will be re-inspected tomorrow,” a representative said.

Leelinaw became one of the world’s first triple chairlifts when constructed by Riblet in 1964. Like most Riblet lifts, it features clips which are inserted into the haul rope rather than grips which clamp onto the rope. Earlier this season, another chair with a Riblet clip fell at 49 Degrees North in Washington State.

I have contacted the Ski/Amusement Division of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, which licenses ski lifts in the state, and will update this post if I get further information on this incident.

Update 1/12: The family of one of the injured skiers asked me to post the following statement: 

My brother has been transported to another hospital with very serious injuries. I would like to thank everyone for their concerns especially those who saw it happen and reported the details to prevent any further injuries. The hospital is closed to visitors and a very close family member at another location is sick in a very bad way with the covid virus. We in the family appreciate  everyone’s thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time.

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.

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.”