News Roundup: Chances for Chairs

News Roundup: Bounty

News Roundup: Consolidation

Kimberley Lift Fire Was Deliberately Set

Last month’s fire which destroyed a lift operator house at Kimberley Alpine Resort was no accident, police revealed today. The blaze torched key electrical components of the Northstar Express the morning of December 18th, rendering the lift inoperable on just the second day of the season. “Further investigation that included scene examination has led investigators to believe this fire is arson and was deliberately set,” said Kimberley Royal Canadian Mounted Police Detachment Commander Sgt. Steve Woodcox.

The fire has limited operations across Kimberley Alpine Resort, which relies on Northstar for out-of-base capacity. Faced without its key chairlift, the ski area has been utilizing a passenger snowcat from sister resort Kicking Horse, another on loan from Revelstoke Mountain Resort and third from a local logging company to move guests to two backside chairlifts. Another option for skiers is to hike 20-40 minutes to the base of the Tamarack double. The resort has also set up temporary food and beverage operations and warming tents on the backside of the mountain for guests while the frontside remains inaccessible. Tourism Kimberley estimates that despites these efforts, there has been a roughly 40 to 50 percent decline in bookings due to the situation with the quad chair.

“Resorts of the Canadian Rockies and Kimberley Alpine Resort’s maintenance experts have been in constant contact with the lift manufacturer, and they are putting a plan together to get the Quad Chair up and operating as soon as possible,” said General Manager Ted Funston in a late December update. “The fire completely demolished the lift control building, along with all the specialized electronic equipment that runs the lift, and so the difficult reality is that it is going to take some time to get the lift operating again, most likely measured in months rather than weeks,” he continued. The Kimberley RCMP requests anyone with information that could assist in their arson investigation to call (250) 427-4811.

News Roundup: Merry Christmas

Fire Breaks Out at Kimberley Lift

For the second time in less than a year, the community of Kimberley, British Columbia faces weeks without a lifeline ski lift. A fire ignited at the Northstar Express early Saturday morning, burning the top operator hut. While outbuildings next to lifts are usually small, they typically contain electrical components critical to operation. Thankfully, the lift was not operating at the time and no one was injured.

The resort’s website shows the last image from the lift shack taken at 1:20 am, just before the fire was reported. While fires have occurred by accident at chairlifts in the past, police are investigating to determine the cause of the blaze. The town of Kimberley was already on edge due to another early morning fire which destroyed the Kimberley Gymnastics Club on December 14th and was deemed suspicious in origin. Police have yet to make any public statements about the cause of the Northstar Express fire.

The timing of ignition the morning after opening day and just before the key Christmas period is incredibly unfortunate if not suspicious. “Our hearts also go out to everyone in Kimberley who makes a living dependent on tourism and the operation of the ski resort, including the owners of many of the businesses in town, and the great staff who work for them,” the resort said in a statement. “Please know that our main focus right now is continuing to give locals and visitors access to the great skiing and riding, and to make visiting the resort as fun and enjoyable as we can.”

The Northstar Express is the only lift servicing the front side of the mountain and providing access to backside lifts. At one point, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) operated four different parallel lifts on this part of the hill including a triple chair, double and T-Bar. All but the quad were removed in the early 2000s to save labor and maintenance costs associated with lifts deemed redundant. A string of setbacks now again leave the resort with two functioning chairlifts on the back of the mountain with no easy access.

There is precedent for the workhorse Northstar being out of service. On January 2nd last year, the Leitner-built quad was rendered inoperable by a gearbox failure. Kimberley lift maintenance and Leitner-Poma worked on repairs, which were completed in just over two weeks. In the meantime, the resort stayed open with uphill hiking allowed to access the backside Easter and Tamarack lifts. A similar operation is planned this time around with the addition of ski/snowboard transportation for those hiking. “Our main focus of course is getting the Quad chair up running again as soon as we possibly can,” said Kimberley. “We are working hard to source any parts we can from around the world to try to replace what was lost.” In the meantime, season passholders are invited to ski at other RCR mountains including Kicking Horse and Fernie.

The Kimberley RCMP is requesting anyone with any information that could assist the investigation to please contact them at (250) 427-4811.

News Roundup: Four More Weeks

  • I managed to completely miss an installation from last year – a used Doppelmayr quad at a publicly-owned hill in Lévis, Quebec.
  • Bousquet acknowledges engineering issues with its chairlift project and offers passholders privileges at nearby ski areas until its new triple is complete.
  • Ontario extends the closure of ski resorts another 28 days, forcing business like Mt. St. Louis Moonstone to make more difficult decisions.
  • France’s 250+ ski resorts may not open at all this season.
  • Austrian resorts expect business to plunge 75 percent this year, calling operating “philanthropic” rather than profitable.
  • One of British Columbia’s largest resorts provides a sobering look at business: lodging occupancy down 87.5 percent, midweek skier visits down 84 percent and ski school down 96 percent.
  • Here’s another 1A update from Aspen.
  • As it negotiates with Vail Resorts, the Park City ski patrol union weighs attempting to unionize other work groups such as lift operators.
  • Skeetawk remains closed for a second week following a lift malfunction.
  • Kimberley reopens the Northstar Express after a successful multi-continent repair effort.
  • Utah’s new Governor expresses support for a gondola in Little Cottonwood.
  • A new lift garners rave reviews at Lake Louise.
  • There’s tons of cool lift history in this feature on the legendary Lone Peak Tram.

News Roundup: Settling Up

News Roundup: Busy Season

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.