Some skiers, boarders stuck nearly three hours in windy conditions before being lowered on ropes Mission Ridge chairlift malfunction strands riders
By Dan Wheat
Posted March 03, 2008
WENATCHEE — More than 100 skiers and snowboarders were evacuated with ropes off the Liberator Express chairlift at Mission Ridge Ski & Snowboard Resort after an electrical short Saturday afternoon.
Some people were stranded on the chair for close to three hours, with temperatures in the 20s and sometimes windy conditions. One woman was treated by a Ridge physician for "frost nip" to her feet or toes but was fine the next day, said Mark Milliette, Ridge general manager.
Several Special Olympics competitors were among those evacuated, he said.
There have been previous partial evacuations of the Liberator, but this was the first full evacuation of the chair since it was installed in the summer of 2005, Milliette said.
The Liberator did not run Sunday or today but should be running Thursday if a part arrives from the manufacturer in Grand Junction, Colo., by then, he said.
The chair quit running at 2:15 p.m. Saturday when an electrical short activated a safety brake meant to engage in the event of a power outage, Milliette said. The brake can't be disengaged with people on the chair, he said.
The short was found and rewired but a new part is needed, he said.
The Liberator is a high-speed quad chairlift that runs 6,225 feet from the ski area's Midway to the 6,820-foot summit. The lift is known for relatively frequent but usually short duration shutdowns due to electrical problems, but also is shut down in high winds.
Milliette said the Ridge is continuing to replace original equipment on the 22-year-old chair, which was bought from Winter Park Resort in Colorado in 2005.
"When we got it, we did a lot of rewiring, but there still are some parts of terminals with original wiring. We will continue to change things out," he said.
This reporter was the last skier to board the Liberator just before Saturday's shutdown.
I was riding by myself and my chair was just a few feet off the ground when the lift stopped. After about 10 minutes, during which the operators made several failed attempts to restart the chair, operators took off my skis and allowed me to drop about 5 feet to the ground.
Seven teams of two patrolmen each evacuated chairs simultaneously on different sections of the lift under windy conditions.
At the top of Chair 3 on the Tumwater Run under the Liberator, people were sitting some 30 to 40 feet above on their chairs. One skier was noticeably shivering. A short distance below, where Tumwater and Nastar runs converge above Hay Stack Rock, Milliette climbed a 40- to 50-foot-tall lift tower. He straddled a cross bar at the top and deployed ropes over the top of the chairlift cables. Ski patrolmen Nate Woodward and Chuck Aldrich caught the ends of the ropes on the ground.
Milliette climbed back down the tower and disappeared down the slope to climb another tower to help another patrol crew start evacuating another section of the lift.
A teenage girl, first off the chair, was near tears with fear but did fine, slipping a looped section of rope under her armpits and sliding onto a metal and plastic seat fastened to the rope. She held the rope as Aldrich and Woodward slowly lowered her to the ground. Her friend came next.
The patrolmen had some difficulty with the ropes, but got it resolved and moved down the hill to unload several more chairs. They then waited for Milliette to return to climb the next tower to redeploy the ropes, which cannot be pulled over the tops of the towers. He said it was the fifth tower he had climbed.
Ski patrol director Brad Whiting and patrolmen Everett Taylor and Robert Anson also climbed towers, Milliette later said.
A couple huddling together to try to stay warm were glad to be lowered from the next chair at 4 p.m., the time the ski area closes for the day.
Myrna Hoane, 49, and her husband, Doug Eisert, 48, Wenatchee, said they had been on the chair for about an hour and 45 minutes.
"We were cold but it could have been way worse," Hoane said. "We had some sun."
She said it was her first time being evacuated from a chair in 45 years of skiing. She praised the patrolmen's work.
Milliette said the last chair was evacuated at 5:02 p.m. and that several of those evacuated stopped at the Midway Cafe to warm up before skiing down to the base.
I think Mission Ridge is regretting their purchase of the old high speed quad...