Sierra at Tahoe Aims to Open with Limited Terrain

As a winter storm heads for California, significant work remains before Sierra at Tahoe can open for the 2021/22 season. It was seven weeks ago the Caldor Fire tore through the majority of the resort’s drought-stricken terrain, damaging lifts and destroying millions of dollars of equipment. Most buildings were saved but Sierra now says extensive damage and supply chain challenges could mean a later than normal start to the season with limited terrain. Parts of the ski area won’t open at all this winter, including the entirety of West Bowl and its two chairlifts.

The season will likely include the Easy Rider Express, Tahoe King, Short Stuff and El Dorado. These lifts are currently undergoing repairs along with normal annual maintenance and inspections. Short Stuff’s fire-damaged haul rope has already been replaced with a spare rope from Mammoth Mountain installed with assistance from Palisades Tahoe. Another lift which needs a new rope, the Grandview Express, will remain out of service until a replacement arrives from Switzerland. “We are focused on making repairs and restoring Sierra to optimal condition, while simultaneously navigating global supply chain and shipping challenges for essential equipment and components,” read an update posted yesterday.

In addition to the West Bowl closure, many tree skiing areas will be off limits the 2021/22 season due to dangerous conditions. Sierra at Tahoe is offering passholders next season on top of this one should they choose to stick it out. This deal also includes a $50 rebate, which can optionally be donated to a fund for Sierra employees impacted by the fire. Resort owners will match $50 donations to make them $100. Passholders who choose not to take the two year season pass options can request a full refund.

“Our opening timeframe for the 2021/22 season is still unknown, as there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in order to offer you the quality ski experience you have come to expect from Sierra,” the resort told passholders. “We are hopeful to have more clarity on an estimated timeframe for opening the resort in the coming weeks.”

No Injuries Reported in Courchevel Tram Crash

Both cabins on a 120 passenger aerial tramway collided into stations earlier today in Courchevel, France. The Saulire Cable Car was undergoing tests at the time and no one was injured. “During an annual regulatory check carried out at the technical limits of the device, an incident severely damaged the two cabins,” read a statement from the Société des 3 Vallées, operator of the tramway. “An expert report will determine the causes of the incident and the S3V will do everything in its power to restore the ropeway in complete safety.”

The Saulire tramway was the world’s largest when built by Poma in 1984. At that time its cars carried up to 160 passengers each. Both cabins were renovated in 2013 at a cost of €300,000.

Courchevel makes up one part of Les 3 Vallées, the largest ski complex in the world with 183 lifts.

Storm Damages Gallix Chairlift in Quebec

Heavy rains caused the drive terminal of a Northern Quebec ski resort’s only chairlift to collapse Sunday night. Photos from the scene show all four terminal legs and the operator house out of position with the motor room hanging precariously. The lift involved is a 1998 Doppelmayr fixed grip quad with a slope length of 2,660 feet.

“The Gallix station team is working hard to secure the perimeter of the lift pending the arrival of the supplier inspectors,” the mountain said in a statement. “During this time, we ask the public not to visit the scene because of the extreme danger of soil stability and chairlift structure. It’s still too early to conclude anything about the 2021-22 season. Thank you for your words of encouragement and understanding,” the mountain added.

The chairlift cost CA$1.5 million when it was installed. A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday between the ski area and its insurance company.

Fire Shutters Big Snow

North America’s only indoor ski area will be closed for at least a week following an overnight fire. The three alarm blaze broke out around 4:15 am when the facility was empty and no one was injured. “Unfortunately, we will be closed at least through October 2nd as we assess the total damage and repairs needed to re-open,” the mountain posted in a statement. “We are tremendously thankful for the quick response and efforts of the local fire departments in working to contain this fire.” The fire was reported to have started in the roof, which supports snowmaking, lighting and lift systems. Firefighters do not consider the blaze to be suspicious.

The 180,000 square foot space includes a quad chair, platter lift and conveyor servicing three slopes. The snow dome contains 5,500 tons of snow which requires constant radiant cooling.

Big Snow is no stranger to setbacks. The original developer of the attraction went bankrupt and the lifts sat idle for 11 years. A new developer, Triple Five Group, partnered with Mountain Creek owner SNOW Operating to finally open the facility in December 2019. Then came Covid, which shut the operation down after only three months of operation. Big Snow kept its snow cold the entire lockdown and reopened in September of 2020. Now facing a fire cleanup, the mountain promises to be back and better than ever as soon as repairs are complete.

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.