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.”

Sea to Sky Gondola Deliberately Severed Again

The Sea to Sky Gondola‘s haul rope was cut again this morning in an intentional act of destruction. The horrible news comes just 13 months after the first such crime occurred the morning of August 10th, 2019. “At 04:00 hours the Squamish RCMP was contacted by the security team at the Sea to Sky Gondola stating that the line to the gondola had been cut and had crashed into the mountain,” read an early morning statement from police. “Squamish RCMP members attended immediately and began to assess information and contain the area.” The lift was not operating at that hour and there are no known injuries.

The criminal(s) responsible for the original downing were never apprehended and the gondola reopened six months later with enhanced security including 24 hour remote monitoring. Squamish RCMP is working alongside partner agencies including the West Vancouver Police Department and more will be arriving as the day goes on.  There is an extensive amount of resources in the area and law enforcement is asking the public to stay out of the vicinity.

“We are in shock,” General Manager Kirby Brown told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “This is a repeat incident of what happened last year.” He said the attraction plans to rebuild again, just as it did last fall. That included millions of dollars of work including new cabins from CWA, a replacement 55 millimeter haul rope from Fatzer and new security infrastructure.

The Sea to Sky Gondola employs 120 people and hosted 400,000 visitors per year before the recent setbacks. Anyone with information on either crime is asked to contact the Squamish Royal Canadian Mounted Police at 604-892-6100 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Update: According to Brown, the cable was cut in a similar manner to last time with a skilled individual quickly climbing a tower and cutting the rope. The person was captured on surveillance footage which shows clearly what happened. There were 39 cabins on the gondola this time, six of which were in stations and undamaged. A rope specialist is en route to determine whether a new haul rope section can be spliced in or if an entirely new rope is needed. The gondola was insured and the company is already in the process of ordering what is needed to rebuild again.

Wildfires Impact Ski Areas Across the West

As snow falls across the Rockies, resorts closer to the Pacific continue to deal with drought conditions and wildland fires. Most immediately threatened is California’s China Peak from the 153,000 acre Creek Fire. “We are aware that the fire has reached our mountain and a strike team is working hard to manage the flames and protect structures on the base area,” said a statement from the resort last night. “Employee housing has been damaged, but we have no other information at this time.” China Peak operates a total of six fixed grip chairlifts.

Eight different National Forests in California shut down to the public effective 5:00 pm on Labor Day due to extreme fire danger. Mammoth Mountain and Snow Summit are among those temporarily suspending mountain operations in partnership with the Forest Service.

In Oregon, a fire ignited within the Mt. Hood Meadows boundary on Monday. Meadows fired up the Stadium Express for firefighters, who were able to contain the blaze to a few acres without damage to lifts or facilities.

The Mt. Hood National Forest is now closed to the public. Timberline Lodge has suspended outdoor operations until further notice (skiing on Palmer Glacier ended August 30th this year.)

In Washington, Crystal Mountain remains largely inaccessible due to fire-related road closures.

On the good news front, the Medio Fire near New Mexico’s Ski Santa Fe is 90 percent contained and the Bridger Foothills Fire threatening Montana’s Bridger Bowl has been slowed by wet weather.

Please keep firefighters and resort employees working to protect ski areas in your thoughts during this challenging time.

Wildfire Hits Soldier Mountain

Instead of celebrating the grand opening of its new bike park this weekend, Idaho’s Soldier Mountain is assessing damage from a wildland fire which tore through the area. An August 5th lightning strike ignited the Phillips Fire, which has burned 1,600 acres as of this morning with only 5 percent containment. “We are heartbroken to inform you that the Phillips Fire passed directly through the heart of our beautiful mountain,” the ski area posted on its social media accounts this afternoon. “The lodge and lifts are still intact, but the bridge that gives access to the resort was destroyed. Since the fire is still an active threat, we will have to wait to further assess the extent of the damage.”

Soldier Mountain operates within the Sawtooth National Forest near Fairfield, not far from the more widely-known Sun Valley Resort. The mountain operates two 1970s Stadeli doubles in addition to a carpet lift and cat skiing operation. Soldier has been for sale since early last year.