Park City Mountain Employee Killed After Tree Falls on Chairlift

A tree fell on the Short Cut triple around 10:45 am this morning at Park City Mountain, causing a ski patroller on the lift to fall more than 25 feet. Despite swift rescue efforts, the 29 year old worker did not survive. Ten other passengers on the lift were evacuated and several other chairlifts in the area were closed to support the ski patrol response. The mountain had received 25 inches of dense snow in the past 48 hours as part of a major storm cycle.

“The Park City Mountain team – as well as the entire Vail Resorts team – extend our deepest sympathy and support to the family and friends of our team member,” said Deirdra Walsh, Park City Mountain vice president & chief operating officer. “We are all deeply saddened by this tragic incident, and we will be providing support for our employees as we grieve this devastating loss.”

Short Cut was installed in 1997 and features triple chairs with lap bars. The lift will remain closed until an investigation is complete. Other lifts in the area are expected to reopen tomorrow.

Update 1/4: Authorities identified the deceased ski patroller as 29 year old Christian Helger of Millcreek, Utah. The cause of death will be determined by the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.

Chair Falls from High Speed Quad at Breckenridge

A quad chair detached from Breckenridge’s Peak 8 SuperConnect today as high winds buffeted the Central Rockies region. The below video shows the upbound chair came to rest just below the upper terminal. “At approximately 10:35 a.m. today, a chair dislodged from the haul rope of the Peak 8 SuperConnect as it was reaching the top terminal,” read a statement from the resort. “One guest was on the chair at the time and fell approximately 13 feet. Ski patrol responded immediately. No injuries were reported and the guest declined further care,” the statement continued. According to witnesses, other riders were slowly offloaded from the lift under normal power. Numerous upper mountain lifts were on hold at the time due to wind and cold temperatures.

The lift involved was built by Leitner-Poma in 2002 and connects Peaks 8 and 9 with three stations. There are normally 190 chairs on the line.

“We place the highest value on the safety of our guests and the Peak 8 SuperConnect will remain closed for the rest of the day,” the resort noted. “We are still actively gathering information and the lift will undergo a full inspection prior to reopening to the public.”

This is the second carrier to fall from a detachable lift in North America this season. Earlier this month, an empty gondola fell from Mont-Sainte-Anne’s gondola, an incident blamed on human error after a grip attach fault. Last season, an occupied gondola cabin fell from the Sunday River Chondola in high winds. Prior to that, a chair detachment at Camelback, Pennsylvania injured three people in March 2021.

Government of Quebec Orders Mont-Sainte-Anne to Remain Closed

Four chairlifts and the gondola at Mont-Sainte-Anne will not carry passengers again until regulators receive a full report into last Saturday’s gondola detachment and the resort takes additional steps to ensure safety. Though no one was injured last weekend, the fall of the cabin was the third serious incident in three years on the gondola and follows numerous other failures and evacuations of lifts at Mont-Sainte-Anne. A nine page order issued today by the Quebec Building Authority (RBQ) prevents operation of the 1989 Doppelmayr gondola L’Étoile Filante as well as the mountain’s three detachable quads and one fixed grip quad. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s two T-Bars and other surface lifts are not affected.

“During the morning startup of the R-176 (L’Étoile filante) ski lift last Saturday, a malfunction occurred in the attachment of cabin number 92 to the cable of the lift,” the agency wrote in a press release. “The checks that were made before the ski lift was put into operation did not comply with the requirements of the CSA Z98:19 standard or the manufacturer’s instructions.” Z98 is the Canadian equivalent of the ANSI B77.1 standard for passenger ropeways in the United States. Specifically, the agency said the lift stopped itself that morning and displayed an “incorrectly positioned grip lever ± 10%” fault. “The mechanic dispatched to the scene carried out a simple visual inspection and authorized the restart of the lift,” the agency stated. Doppelmayr’s manual instead prescribes running the lift slowly in reverse, removing occupants if applicable and running the affected carrier empty through the switch again. If the same fault repeats, the cabin should be removed from the line immediately. Instead, the lift was quickly restarted in the forward direction and cabin 92 tripped another safety system on towers 23 and 24 before falling to the ground. Even though the lift had not opened to the public for the day, employees were on line and had to be evacuated.

The RBQ noted it has issued more than 25 correction notices to Mont-Saint-Anne since 2015. That year, an unnecessary rope evacuation occurred on the Express du Nord due to personnel having insufficient training. Also in 2015, a ski instructor and child jumped from the Express du Sud as their chair, stuck on a tower, was hit by other chairs. The lift continued moving despite the derailment and sustained significant damage. That mishap was blamed on “lack of maintenance.” Six days later, the same lift was rope evacuated due to motor and gearbox failures.

A pair of 2020 incidents on the gondola were both sudden stops that led to guest injuries, some requiring hospitalization. The RBQ noted that “shortcomings with regard to maintenance” were found and it took more than a year for the lift to be repaired (perhaps in part due to Covid). In addition to $1.5 million in upgrades, approximately half of the cabins on the gondola were decommissioned.

Today’s order outlined steps which must be taken before Mont-Sainte-Anne can return aerial lifts to operation. “For the R-176 ski lift (L’Étoile Filante), the RBQ requires MSA to obtain an expert’s report aimed at explaining the malfunction of the equipment and to apply the recommendations of this report, in addition to obtaining a security certificate signed by an engineer,” the agency wrote. “As for the resort’s other ski lifts that have detachable grips…the RBQ orders, among other things, to carry out the verification of the moving parts on all the grips and to obtain a safety certificate signed by an engineer.” Finally, the watchdog requires that Mont-Sainte-Anne submit a training plan to ensure that personnel know, understand and properly apply operating procedures.

Mont-Sainte-Anne’s most recent statement on the incident came yesterday, before the government’s order. “The operation and maintenance of ski lifts are governed by laws and standards that we must respect,” said Maxime Cretin, Vice President and General Manager for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Eastern Region. “Constant monitoring of the operation and a detailed maintenance log are required for all our lifts. User safety is a priority for our teams. We continue to offer our cooperation to the competent authorities who will continue their inspections a the beginning of the next week. For the moment, no hypothesis has been ruled out from the ongoing investigation into the gondola,” he said.

The RBQ noted that it does not take revocation of operating permits lightly but that last Saturday’s event could have been fatal. “Ski resort operators are primarily responsible for the safety of their customers,” commented Stephane Petit, Vice President of Client Relations and Operations at the Quebec Building Authority. “Our priority remains public safety. The reopening of the ski lifts will depend on the pace of fulfillment of the requirements set out in the ordinance by Mont-Sainte-Anne.”

Update: Mont-Sainte-Anne issued another statement tonight, 12/16:

“We were informed of the Order from the Building Authority that was issued to us at the end of the afternoon today. We will make every effort to implement the requested requirements and honor the trust of our customers. A review of procedures and training was already scheduled this weekend and additional inspections were also planned for the resumption of operations. Awaiting the final findings of the investigations, we are working on a safe plan to restore activities.

Cabin Falls from Mont-Sainte-Anne Gondola

Photo credit: Jean-Francois Racine

For the third time in three years the gondola L’Étoile Filante at Mont-Sainte-Anne is shuttered due to an incident. This time no one was injured when an empty down bound cabin detached and fell from the haul rope before the mountain opened for the day. A tower safety system stopped the lift automatically and workers arrived to find the cabin on the ground. The mountain has been closed for at least the weekend while the incident is investigated.

“We continue to verify the entire lift and secure the site, read a statement from the resort. “A full inspection procedure was initiated to verify and validate the causes of the event. The teams of the lift manufacturer as well as the competent authorities were called upon to assist our teams in the inspection of the gondola.”

Mont-Sainte-Anne owner Resorts of the Canadian Rockies noted what happened today is not related to a February 2020 incident which sent a dozen people to the hospital or a March 2020 one which injured another person. The gondola was closed for a year after those accidents and underwent $1.5 million in upgrades before reopening in March 2021. Still, the Doppelmayr-built system is 33 years old and RCR has received criticism for lack of investment across its six ski areas. Mont-Sainte-Anne’s lift fleet averages 35 years old with three detachables dating back to the 1980s. Earlier this year, the well-capitalized Groupe Le Massif offered to buy Resorts of the Canadian Rockies’ two eastern resorts, an offer which RCR declined.

For now Mont-Sainte-Anne passholders can ski at nearby sister resort Stoneham. Mont-Sainte-Anne plans to shift snowmaking efforts to the south side of the mountain not serviced by the gondola and will update guests when it can reopen.

No Injuries Reported in Cypress Mountain Tower Flying Incident

A helicopter pilot was forced to release a tower head bound for Cypress Mountain’s new chairlift Friday when weather conditions became unfavorable. The Sikorsky S-61 helicopter landed safely but the uppermost section of tower 6 was damaged beyond repair. “A fog bank moved quickly and unexpectedly into the work zone as the assembly was being set,” read a statement from the resort. “During the helicopter’s exit from the fog – as required by safety protocols – the load was jettisoned to allow the helicopter to safely reposition to an area with greater visibility, then navigate back to and land at the base area,” the statement continued. The helicopter was being operated by VIH Aviation Group of North Saanich, British Columbia and had been hired by Doppelmayr Canada to install towers at Cypress. Work was temporarily suspended after the incident and Worksafe BC as well as aviation authorities are investigating.

“Safety protocols were strictly followed, and the critical and fortunate outcome is that no one was injured,” said Russell Chamberlain, president and general manager of Cypress Mountain. “We expect this incident will alter the schedule, but not in a way that causes an actual setback in timing.” Doppelmayr is working to replace damaged components at factories in Salt Lake City, Utah and St.-Jérôme, Quebec.

The SkyQuad is replacing a 1968 Mueller double on the upper mountain. Cypress said that despite the setback, Doppelmayr expects to have the new lift operational as planned in mid-December.

Fire Damages Plattekill Mountain Chairlift

A lightning strike is believed to have started a lift shack fire at New York’s Plattekill Mountain Tuesday afternoon. The local fire department responded within 10 minutes and stopped flames from spreading to the double chair‘s drive terminal. “A special thanks to our first neighbor just below the mountain who saw the fire and called it in, and the swift response of the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department they were able to save our base terminal and ensure that we shall ride again this winter,” the mountain wrote on social media.

The Hall double was installed at Plattekill in 2002 but originated at nearby Belleayre in 1977. Fiercely independent Plattekill normally runs the lift in the summer for weddings but has already made plans to switch scheduled events to its other chairlift. “Efforts are already underway scouring the supply chain to source parts and rebuild,” the ski area said, noting the shack housed the lift’s DC drive and controls. Other resorts and a local lumber company have already offered to help. Specifics on what parts are needed can be found here. “The outpouring of support from friends and other ski areas is overwhelming and reminds us what is so amazing about our industry,” Plattekill said.

New Snowbird Tram Cabin Damaged During Installation

One of the new cabins being installed on Snowbird’s Aerial Tram fell Saturday during installation, causing significant damage. Thankfully the incident occurred in a closed construction area at the base of the mountain and no one was injured. Snowbird said the root cause was some sort of equipment malfunction. “An investigation is under way to determine where the malfunction occurred,” the resort said in a statement. Upgrades to the tram are being carried out by Doppelmayr/Garaventa, the original manufacturer of the tram. The project includes new cabins with rooftop viewing decks, new controls, bullwheels and other upgrades.

The modern red and blue cabins were manufactured in Switzerland by CWA Constructions and had just arrived in Utah. Snowbird said Doppelmayr and CWA will work to replace the likely damaged beyond repair red cabin in time for the 2022-23 winter season. Snowbird and Doppelmayr are also also working on a plan to have at least partial tram service for this summer. The tram was originally scheduled to re-open with new cabins in late June.

Aerial tram cabins are custom built with long manufacturing lead times. In 2012, an Alyeska tram car was destroyed after hitting a tower in high winds. Service resumed about six weeks later with one cabin and a second car was installed and operational about five months after the incident. In September 2018, a brand new tram cabin in Germany was written off following a training accident. That tramway reopened just over three months later with a newly-manufactured cabin from CWA.

Cabin Falls From Sunday River’s Chondola

A 17 year old guest sustained minor injuries in a lift incident at Sunday River last night. “At 5:37PM, a gondola cabin detached from the haul rope of the Chondola lift as a result of a high gust of wind causing the cabin to misfeed into the top terminal of the lift,” Sunday River said in a statement. “The cabin fell approximately 10 feet and was occupied by one guest who sustained minor injuries and was transported to the base of the mountain by ski patrol and released.”

The Chondola is a hybrid lift with both chairs and gondola cabins built in 2008. It features Doppelmayr UNI-G stations and Agamatic grips. “Due to increasing winds, the lift was being unloaded and running at half speed under high wind protocol at the time of the incident,” the resort said. “All guests remaining on the lift were safely unloaded and night skiing operations were suspended.”

Lawsuit Filed Following Camelback Chair Incident

The family injured when a chair fell from Camelback’s Resort’s Sullivan Express last March has filed a lawsuit alleging employees knew about problems yet continued to load skiers. New Jersey resident Yelisey Rabaev and two of his children were in chair 62 when it detached from the haul rope and all three suffered major injuries. Yelisey’s wife Goldie, who was with the couple’s two other children, watched the incident happen from another chair and is also a party in the suit.

Various LLCs that make up Camelback Resort are listed as defendants along with parent companies KSL Resorts of California and EPR Properties of Missouri. Doppelmayr USA, manufacturer of the 1995 model year lift, is not named in the lawsuit.

“Prior to Plaintiffs’ arrival at Camelback Mountain Ski Resort on March 21, 2021, patrons riding the Sullivan Express experienced violent shaking and swinging of the chairs on the Sullivan Express that was abnormal,” lawyers for the plaintiffs allege. “The violent shaking and swinging would occur when the Sullivan Express would start moving again after being stopped. The most violent shaking and swinging of chairs would occur near the top of the Sullivan Express within the view of the lift operator and/or attendant.”

“Despite having reports that the chairs on the Sullivan Express were violently shaking and swinging, and despite the lift operator/attendant having witnessed this shaking and swinging the Camelback Defendants outrageously, wantonly, willfully, and recklessly disregarded the safety of their patrons and failed to shut down, disable, and/or prevent riders from riding Sullivan Express and, instead, continued to permit and encourage patrons to utilize the Sullivan Express,” lawyers wrote.

The father and two children fell more than 20 feet and were taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Yelisey was most seriously injured and spent nearly three weeks in three different hospitals before being transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation center. Descriptions of his injuries take up nearly an entire page of court documents and he remains disabled. The minors suffered broken bones and one a collapsed lung.

The Sullivan Express remained closed for the rest of of last season but is now back open to skiers. “While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, we remain deeply saddened for the family involved in the March 2021 Sullivan lift incident,” Camelback Resort said in a statement. “Our number one priority is always the safety and security of our guests and employees, and we have taken and continue to take extensive measures to ensure that we are providing a safe environment.” The family is being represented by Philadelphia law firm Cohen, Placitella & Roth, which has requested a jury trial.

Arrests Made Following Stoppage of San Diego Zoo Gondola

A fault which stopped the San Diego Zoo Skyfari for two hours today was no accident, police say. A witness told the San Diego Union-Tribune four patrons were “swinging their gondola from side to side and knocked it off a rail or cable, forcing an automatic shutdown.” The San Diego Fire Department responded just after 2:00 pm but no evacuation was needed and approximately 100 passengers were safely offloaded under the lift’s own power. “Some patrons may need medical evaluation,” the department said in a 4:30 pm tweet. The San Diego Police Department later said it arrested four men, ages 20 to 24, on suspicion of felony vandalism.

The Skyfari is a VonRoll Type 101 gondola built in 1969. Its 28 four passenger cabins circulate between two stations at either end of the zoo.