Gondola closed, Bell Mountain riders stuck for a while
Heavy winds played havoc with chairlifts on Aspen Mountain Sunday, closing the Silver Queen Gondola and stranding some of the spring-break crowd on the Bell Mountain lift for 40 minutes.
Gusty winds at about 12:20 p.m. forced the closure of the gondola for the rest of the day.
Skiers seeking an alternative route up the hill got an unpleasant surprise 30 minutes later when high winds derailed a cable on one of the towers near the top of the Bell Mountain double chair.
Wind gusts of up to 63 mph were reported on Ajax, said Aspen Mountain Manager Rob Baxter. The problem wasn’t so much the wind speed as its variable direction, he said.
The tricky winds managed to slip the cable out from between pulley wheels at one lift tower. Riders, who included a reporter for The Aspen Times, didn’t experience any jolt, swaying or backwards slippage, as usually happens when lifts suddenly stop. The lift simply eased to a halt.
A patroller skied beneath the chairs after about 10 minutes and informed riders there was a mechanical problem. About 50 riders were stuck on the lift, said Baxter.
Lift technicians climbed the tower where the cable derailed and eventually got the lift moving at a crawl. They manually prevented chairs from slamming into the tower at the problem area.
The lift stopped frequently as the crew “played the gusts,” Baxter explained.
Observant riders could see the cable riding the top of the pulley wheels rather than between them.
When riders finally unloaded, they were greeted by another patroller and presented with an apology and certificates for various discounts. People who were stuck for about 40 minutes, like the Times reporter, were given a $40 coupon good toward lift tickets or ski school lessons.
Baxter said the cable was slipped back into place once riders were off, and the Bell Mountain chair is ready for regular operation today.
Aspen Mountain’s other two upper mountain chairlifts, Ruthie’s and the Ajax Express, experienced little trouble Sunday due to wind.
None of the other local ski areas had lifts close for extended times due to winds Sunday, according to the Skico’s communications department.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.