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.

Landslide Damages Nitehawk Chairlift

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Photo credit: Johnathan Clarkson

Ground movement has impacted the only chairlift at Nitehawk Adventure Park, a community ski area located in Grande Prairie, Alberta.  Multiple lift towers were caught up when the slide occurred around 3:00 am Tuesday.

Nitehawk staff had been monitoring slow movement this spring and preemptively took chairs and sheave assemblies off the lift.  The ski area had also de-tensioned the Yan triple chair, which first opened in 1994.  The lift started servicing a downhill bike park in 2007.

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Photo credit: Johnathan Clarkson

Nitehawk is operated by the nonprofit Grande Prairie Ski Club.  “We’re thankful this event occurred when no one was on location,” said Board Vice President Whitney Wild in a statement. “Our Board of Directors and management are working with geotechnical professionals to determine next steps and possible solutions,” she continued.  “Nitehawk is no stranger to facing and overcoming adversity.  Operating a successful community ski hill in Northern Alberta is no easy feat.  Our resiliency, along with the incredibly supportive community, will help us deal with this new challenge head on.”

Gondola Riders Injured in Incident at Mont-Sainte-Anne

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Photo credit: CBC Radio Canada

Nearly two dozen passengers suffered injuries this morning when a gondola lift came to an abrupt stop at Mont-Sainte-Anne, a large resort near Quebec City.  The incident occurred just before 10:00 am and cabins stopped suddenly enough that skis and snowboards fell from exterior racks.  At least one cabin became lodged at an angle in a station with a broken window.  Other cabins reportedly contacted towers.  Out of the 21 people injured, 12 were transported to hospitals by ambulance.

By around 10:45, the gondola was restarted in reverse to unload riders.  The rescue operation was completed by noon and the lift is now closed.  A spokesperson for Mont-Sainte-Anne said there were 80 cabins on the line today and an investigation will be undertaken.  “Our main objective is to make sure that everyone is taken care of quickly, then, afterwards, we will have more details on the mechanical aspects,” said Simon Lefebvre with the ski resort.

The gondola, known as L’Étoile Filante, was constructed by Doppelmayr and opened in 1989.  It is the largest of seven lifts at Sainte-Anne, a mountain owned by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.  Calgary-based RCR operates a total of six ski resorts in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.

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Chairlift-Winch Cat Accident Injures Four in Switzerland

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Four people were injured when their chair fell approximately 30 feet from the upper section of the Stoos-Fronalpstock chairlift in central Switzerland last night.  It is believed the chair came in contact with a snow cat’s winch cable before falling.  Such cables are commonly used to assist with grooming steep slopes.  The lift involved is a Garaventa detachable quad with bubbles.

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The accident occurred around 10:00 pm when employees of the Lindt chocolate company were descending from an evening private event.  Two of the four victims sustained life-threatening injuries.  “We are in close contact with the medical team and family members and wish our employees to heal as quickly as possible,” said a spokesperson for the chocolatier.  Six people in two other chairs were rescued uninjured.  The lift will remain closed while an investigation and repairs are completed.

Stevens Pass Evacuates Seventh Heaven Following Tower Incident

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A malfunction occurred on the Seventh Heaven double this morning at Stevens Pass, necessitating a rope evacuation.  Photos appear to show sheaves missing from the light side of tower 1 and the rope caught by the bottom terminal.

“At approximately 9:45 a.m. this morning, Seventh Heaven chairlift stopped operating,” read a statement from the mountain, which is operated by Vail Resorts.  “Ski patrol evacuated 26 guests, with no reported injuries.  The evacuation was safely completed at approximately 12:15 p.m.,” the statement continued.  “Stevens Pass extends its apologies to the guests who were inconvenienced by this event.  The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority.”

Seventh Heaven is one of three remaining Riblet chairlifts at Stevens.  It first opened in 1960 but many components including the bottom terminal and tower 1 are newer than that.  The lift services expert terrain on Cowboy Mountain and reaches an elevation of 5,640 feet.  There was no immediate word on when the summit would reopen.

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Tower 1 is heavily loaded with 12 sheaves on each side.