Disaster Strikes the Sea to Sky Gondola

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Photo credit: Kirby Brown via Squamish Chief

Something terrible happened to the Sea to Sky Gondola overnight and police say it was likely an intentional act.  General Manager Kirby Brown told the Squamish Chief that a worker heard a loud noise around 4:30 am and later found gondola cabins on the ground.  “We’re just in the early moments of investigating how that could possibly happen,” he told the newspaper.  “Certainly, early indications are that there was no environmental or maintenance mechanism that could have caused it.  It points toward a conclusion that somebody interfered with the lift.”

No one was on the 7,000 foot long gondola at the time.  The Doppelmayr eight passenger installation opened in May 2014 to carry sightseers and hikers above Howe Sound near Squamish, British Columbia.  Not everyone was happy about the project when first proposed due to its proximity to the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park.  The gondola proved popular, however, and just this spring more cabins were added to bring the total number to 31.

At a 3:00 pm press conference, Kara Triance with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a criminal investigation is underway.  “At this time we believe the cables were cut and this was a deliberate act of vandalism,” she said.  The 52 millimeter haul rope was completely severed and the majority of cabins crashed to the ground.  Teams are attempting to survey the entire lift line for clues and are asking the public to stay away.  Technical Safety BC and Doppelmayr are also assisting with the investigation.  Anyone with information on this crime is asked to call the RCMP at 604-892-6100.

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Wind Blamed for Occupied Chair Falling in Australia

A lone skier was only slightly injured when the quad chair he was riding detached and fell some thirty feet near the top terminal of the Gunbarrel Express at Thredbo earlier today.  In a statement, the resort says the incident was isolated to one chair and the result of high winds.  According to the Canberra Times, the region recorded a maximum gust of nearly 70 miles per hour Monday.

Gunbarrel is a 1988 Doppelmayr detachable quad with DS grips.  The lift traverses more than 5,500 feet of intermediate and advanced terrain with a capacity of 2,800 skiers per hour.

It’s already Tuesday in Australia and Gunbarrel remains on standby while other lifts are currently open.

Vail’s Eagle Bahn Gondola Reopens Following Tower Issue

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Photo credit: CBS Denver

The Eagle Bahn Gondola on Vail Mountain is carrying guests again this afternoon following a nearly six day closure.  Approximately one hour before it was scheduled to open to the public last Wednesday, a monitoring system alerted Vail lift mechanics to a tower joint problem.  Seventy four employees riding the lift at the time were brought down by rope over several hours.   The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board and Vail Associates were in constant contact following the incident and throughout the repair process according to spokesman Lee Rasizer.  “Repairs have since been completed,” he said in a statement this afternoon.

“The resort worked diligently with lift specialists and experts to resolve the issue,” said Vail Resorts Communications Manager Jessie Vandenhouten in a separate release. “Vail places the highest value on the safety of its employees and guests and extends its apologies to those who were inconvenienced by this event.”

The CPTSB noted it conducted two inspections of Eagle Bahn within the last nine months – a licensing inspection on November 3rd, 2018 and an unannounced visit on February 15th of this year.  All necessary corrections were completed by the ski area stemming from those two inspections.

The gondola was built in 1996 by Garaventa CTEC utilizing 12 passenger CWA X model cabins.  Eagle Bahn operates not only for skiers and sightseers but also for Vail’s Epic Discovery summer program at Eagle’s Nest.  Gondola One in Vail Village provided mountain access together with shuttle buses during the extended Eagle Bahn closure on a busy holiday weekend.

Fatal Gondola Maintenance Accident in Switzerland

One worker was killed and six were injured this morning while performing maintenance work on an eight passenger gondola at the Swiss ski resort Engelberg-Titlis.  The three most seriously hurt were transported to the hospital by helicopter.  Cabins were not on the line and no guests were involved.  The lift, called Engelberg-Trübsee, was built by Garaventa in 2015 and is operated by Bergbahnen Engelberg-Trübsee-Titlis AG.

Nineteen people were working on a routine haul rope splicing project at the time of the accident.  The man who lost his life had worked for the resort firm for over 20 years.  “It’s the darkest day in our company’s history,” said Chairman of the Board Hans Wicki at a press conference.  “The deceased had many years of experience with maintenance and loved the work,” he continued.

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Doppelmayr-Garaventa annual book entry for the Engelberg-Trübsee gondola lift, left.

An investigation into the accident will be performed by the Forensic Science Institute Zurich and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research.

Another Lift Catches Fire in Europe

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Photo credit: La République des Pyrénées

For the third time in four months, a major European lift has been knocked out of service by fire, this time in the Pyrenees of France.  A Doppelmayr six pack called “Le Family” ignited Monday evening at a mid-sized ski resort called La Pierre-Saint-Martin.  The station that burned is the return and included a parking facility for all 80 chairs.  The mile long lift cost €7 million to build back in 2014.  Like many lifts in France, much of the terminal was clad with wood.  Due to the intensity of the fire, the haul rope appears to have snapped with chairs on the line.  Thankfully, no one was injured as the lift had already closed for the day when the fire started.

Around 40 percent of the ski area is now inaccessible, though the rest of the mountain will remain open.  The caused of the fire is still under investigation.  Back in September, a fire destroyed two aerial tramways near Chamonix and on December 3rd, a blaze damaged the bottom terminal of a 10 passenger gondola in Zillertal, Austria.

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Photo credit: Quentin Top

Runaway Equipment Damages the Zugspitze Cable Car

An ugly scene on the Zugspitze.  Photo credit: Kreisbote.de

This is not a good week for tramways in Europe.  An incident last night on the highest mountain in Germany severely damaged one of two Eibsee Cable Car cabins during a practice exercise.  Apparently a rescue carrier broke loose due to a broken chain hoist and crashed into the 120 passenger tramway cabin below at high speed.  Like with the fire at a French tram on Tuesday, the lift was free of passengers and luckily no one was injured.  A Zugspitze spokesperson says the Garaventa-built tram will be out of service until further notice.

The lift became the pinnacle of ropeway technology when it opened last December, breaking world records for the tallest lattice tower (416 feet), longest ropeway span (10,541 feet) and highest vertical rise (6,381 feet), making this a truly stunning setback.  When a cabin on the Alyeska, Alaska tram hit a tower in 2013, technicians were able to replace it with a counterweight in just a few weeks until a new cabin could be manufactured.  We’ll have to wait and see whether CWA can repair the Zugspitze cabin or must fabricate a whole new one.

Twin VonRoll Tramways Burn in France

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The Lognan tramway station on fire in Chamonix, France. Photo credit: Rob Atkinson

A rough summer turned even worse today for Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, the firm that operates lifts in the Chamonix Valley.  The middle station of the two section Grands Montets tramway caught fire, severing five cables and sending two of the four 60 passenger cabins to the ground.  VonRoll built both systems in 1962-63 and the first section was renovated in 1974, followed by the second in 1989.  The upper stage got new cabins in 2009 and the lower two were replaced in 2014.  The lifts are a combined 15,700 feet long with a massive 6,700 feet of vertical.

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The fire began around 1:50 pm in the roof of the intermediate station building, as captured on a nearby webcam.  Although the system operates in both winter and summer, apparently no trips were in progress at the time as the building was being renovated.

Helicopters fought the fire all afternoon and it is now extinguished.  The public is being warned to stay clear of the area as three ropes are still hanging on but could give way.  There are no reports of injuries, thankfully.

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Avalanche Damaged New Zealand Lift is Down for the Season

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In the end, the haul rope sealed the deal.  Turoa, one of the two ski resorts on Mt. Ruapehu, announced today that its summit lift will not reopen this season following damage from a large avalanche last week.  The top terminal of the High Noon Express is located inside a building and was spared, however snow caused the tube of tower 15 to give way.  Communication from the resort, particularly chief executive Ross Copland, has been stellar from beginning to end.  Here’s a recap.

Mr. Copland posted a Facebook update from the site within hours and an entertaining selfie video soon after.  “It’s a pretty sorry state as you can see behind me.  Tower 15 has taken the brunt of a massive snow loading.  The shape of the building for the return of the High Noon Express has actually protected it really nicely.  The snow has come down right over the roof and basically launched right into the top tower.”  He exclaimed at the end “It’s not the first time we’ve had to replace a tower on the High Noon Express!”

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Government: Human Error Caused Gudauri Rollback

Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Dimitry Kumsishvili held a press conference today to announce initial findings of an investigation into the rollback of a 2007 Doppelmayr quad chair at the Gudauri ski resort, which injured 11 people a week ago.  French firm Bureau Veritas confirmed the lift’s initial stop was caused by a power outage.  “After the chairlift was stopped, the operator had to introduce specific sequence of procedures and after implementation of the certain actions, the operator had to switch the chairlift on to the diesel generator power and bring the tourist to the safe site,” a translated press release reads.  “Unfortunately, according to the current conclusion, the operator made a mistake. The combination of the actions that he should have had carried out were not implemented in compliance with the relevant instructions – it was a human error.”

The report notes the chairlift had undergone an inspection in December and was in “perfect technical order.”  The operator on duty at the time has been fired and may face criminal charges at the conclusion of the investigation.  The Head of Gudauri Mountain Management and Deputy Director of the Mountain Resort Development Company have both resigned in the wake of the incident.  Georgia is in active talks to retrain employees from Gudauri and other ski areas, though staff had been to training courses at Doppelmayr headquarters in Austria in 2017 and Poma was on site offering training opportunities as recently as January.  The government says there are 15 total chairlifts in the country that are “in line with the world’s advanced standards.”  A statement from Doppelmayr linking to the release notes, “We hope that the injured persons are getting well soon. This remains the most important point at the moment.” According to Minister Kumsishvili, all of those injured have been released from hospitals and invited to return to ski next year for free.

High-Speed Rollback in Georgia Injures Eight

While we in North America were sleeping, a serious lift incident unfolded in the Caucasus Mountains, where Europe and Asia meet.  Videos posted to YouTube and Facebook show a Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad picking up speed in reverse and chaos ensuing on an already crowded powder day.  Any riders who didn’t jump were thrown from the lift at the drive bullwheel or pinned between mangled chairs.  Georgia’s Ministry of Economy says eight people sustained non life-threatening injuries.

Another picture shows chairs piled up after the lift came to a stop on what would normally be the arrival side of the drive station.  Some grips held on while others were ripped from the haul rope after going around the bullwheel.

From looking through Doppelmayr Worldbooks, I believe the lift in question is called Sadzele, built in 2007 as one of six lifts at the Gudauri ski resort.  Note that fixed-grip lift models Doppelmayr sells in the U.S. and Canada differ significantly from those found in Europe and elsewhere.

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