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.

Breaking Down the Building Boom of 2022

The 2.4 mile Base to Base Gondola connected Alpine Meadows and Olympic Valley following two years of construction and decades of dreaming.

North American lift construction reached a 23 year high in 2023 with 66 installations from California to Maine and British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Not only did 2022 see the largest number of projects since 1999, it was likely the biggest lift investment year ever in dollars. While there’s no way to know exactly how much all the lifts cost, it’s safe to say the new gondolas, bubble chairs and fixed grip quads built this year total hundreds of millions. Amazingly, this feat was accomplished amid immense supply chain and labor challenges and without three large projects postponed at Park City and Keystone. A few lifts remain in final stages of construction this New Year’s Eve but will be completed in the first weeks of 2023 and spin for decades to come.

Rip’s Ride was the very first of 18 Epic Lift Upgrade projects to open this season.

Vail Resorts realized an incredible 18 new lifts at 12 resorts for the 2022-23 season, the largest-ever investment by the firm and probably any company in North American ski history. Boyne Resorts also went big with multiple eight place installations and a half dozen projects total as it continued renewing lift fleets across its ten resort portfolio. Five year old Alterra Mountain Company launched giant new gondolas at Palisades Tahoe and Steamboat with more big projects in the pipeline for 2023.

Jordan 8 became the fourth eight place chairlift in the United States at Sunday River, Maine.

While this year’s class spans coast to coast, a few geographic hot spots accounted for the bulk of new lifts. I have already travelled to Lake Tahoe four times this season thanks to new lift openings at five different resorts (and plentiful snow!) Five different resorts in the Wasatch also added new lifts, a number lower than originally planned due to the unfortunate cancellation of Park City’s two projects. As always, Colorado was an epicenter with not one but two new lifts at both Steamboat and Vail plus one offs at Arapahoe Basin, Loveland and Telluride.

Skytrac had its biggest year ever for complete lifts with 10 projects on top of relocations and retrofits.

In the Midwest, the big story was Michigan where Boyne Mountain debuted the region’s first eight place detachable, Caberfae expanded onto South Peak and Bittersweet debuted a second high speed quad. In the east, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania nearly matched Colorado’s number of new lifts, a whopping five of which went in at Vail-owned Jack Frost and Big Boulder. Camelback Resort and Blue Mountain nearly doubled the state’s number of six packs overnight. Four of six New England states saw new construction with three new lifts each in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Canada had a relatively quiet year aside from Whistler, where Vail Resorts and Doppelmayr built the two largest lifts of the year by vertical transport feet per hour.

The Gray Butte Quad at Mt. Shasta Ski Park adds to the ski area’s vertical and terrain offering for the 2022-23 season.

There weren’t just a lot of lifts this year but a lot of big lifts. 2022 saw the highest percentage of detachable equipment since at least 1999, when four different companies competed in the space. After decades with only Doppelmayr and Leitner-Poma in the North American detachable market, MND Ropeways completed its first North American detachable at Waterville Valley this year in partnership with Bartholet. With a capacity of 3,000 skiers per hour and 1,600 foot vertical rise, the Tecumseh Express is one of the largest installations of the year by any manufacturer.

Waterville Valley’s Tecumseh Express, a bubble six pack built by MND Ropeways.

Fixed grip triples and quads remained popular this year with a solid 26 installations. Gondolas also reached a Covid-era high while surface lifts and trams took a back seat.

Exciting lift-served expansions opened across the West as 2022 came to a close. A D-Line six pack at Grand Targhee unlocked 500 new acres on Peaked Mountain and a quad chair at Lookout Pass opened another 500 acres on Eagle Peak. A new quad at Mt. Shasta services 250 new acres on Gray Butte and another fixed quad accesses 40 acres of new terrain at at Sundance Resort. Utah Olympic Park also completed a major expansion to its training facilities with a high speed quad on West Peak.

Grand Targhee’s new Colter detachable six pack opened in November on Peaked Mountain.

Despite the entrance of MND and niche installations by Partek and SkyTrans, the HTI Group and Doppelmayr remain locked in a fierce duopoly in North America, mirroring their positions globally. HTI’s Leitner-Poma and Skytrac constructed a combined 26 lifts in this corner of the world while Doppelmayr managed 30. Together those represent 95 percent market share.

Steamboat’s new Wild Blue Gondola features 10 passengers cabins and the largest diameter haul rope of any lift in North America.

Interestingly HTI continues to offer two different fixed grip product lines (Skytrac Monarch and Leitner-Poma Alpha) while Doppelmayr has two detachable families with D-Line and UNI G. This was the largest year ever for D-Line with five installations and more planned for next year.

Covid turned into a boon for the ski industry and 65 of 66 projects were at ski resorts. For all the talk of urban gondolas and point of interest projects, skiing remains nearly synonymous with the lift business. An outfit called SkyLand Ranch near Gatlinburg, Tennessee saw the lone non-skiing installation for 2022. So far only one of next year’s project is non-skiing at a California winery.

Saddleback Mountain self-installed a new beginner quad supplied by Partek.
After a few year hiatus, the Leitner-Poma Alpha returned in 2022 with installations at Loveland, Cascade Mountain and Wasatch Peaks Ranch.

Lift Blog also enjoyed a growth year with more than 800,000 unique visitors viewing 4.3 million pages – an average of 12,000 per day. As great as 2022 was, 2023 will be even better. With early orders in hand, manufacturers are ramping up to build at least 60 projects ranging from the first D-Lines in Canada to a large aerial tramway and the longest gondola in North America. Keystone’s Bergman Bowl expansion will finally be realized along with expansions at Aspen Mountain, Schweitzer, Steamboat, Loon Mountain and Sugarloaf. There are also a number of big lifts on order which have not been publicly announced yet. You can bet I will cover them all and hope you will join me. Happy New Year.

Jackson Hole and Leitner-Poma partnered to upgrade the Thunder lift from a fixed grip quad to a detachable quad with contour loading and unloading.

News Roundup: Last of the Year

Snowbasin to Add Second Strawberry Lift

The Strawberry Express Gondola at Snowbasin Resort will get some much-needed relief next season with construction of a new six person chairlift next summer. The Leitner-Poma built DeMoisy Express will load near the gondola and unload along the Strawberry Traverse, providing much-needed redundancy and capacity. The lift will be named after DeMoisy Peak, which sits between Strawberry and Needles. “Through this strategic placement, we will be able to double the uphill capacity of this region, provide multiple options for skiers and riders into the Strawberry area, and allow access to this varied and sought-after terrain more frequently throughout the season,” said Snowbasin’s announcement. The new lift will transport up to 2,400 skiers per hour with a ride time of 10 minutes. “To say that both the Snowbasin staff and loyal guests will be excited about this lift announcement may be the understatement of the year,” said Davy Ratchford, Vice President and General Manager of Snowbasin Resort. “DeMoisy Express has been contemplated as part of our future plans for the resort, and we are thrilled to be moving forward on this incredible addition.”

The DeMoisy Express is expected to open for the 2023-24 ski season and will be the second Leitner-Poma detachable at Snowbasin, following the Middle Bowl Express built in 2021.

News Roundup: More Than a Mechanic

Breckenridge Ski Resort confirms at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22, a chair dislodged from the haul rope of the Peak 8 SuperConnect as it was reaching the top terminal. 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 Peak 8 SuperConnect was closed for the remainder of the day on Thursday. The resort’s lift maintenance team was on site at the time of the incident and worked with the Colorado Tramway Safety Board to report the incident.  

At the time of this event, the resort was following all standard operating procedures. The wind direction was predominantly favorable for operation of the Peak 8 SuperConnect when it opened for the day at 10 a.m., however an abnormal wind gust across the top terminal, in addition to the chair coming into contact with components of the upper terminal, created the circumstances of this event. 

Since the event, the resort’s lift maintenance team has conducted a thorough inspection of the Peak 8 SuperConnect and consulted with the Colorado Tramway Safety Board. The lift resumed operations at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23.

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.

News Roundup: Doubles Save the Day