Ice blamed for collapse of Whistler gondola tower
December 17, 2008
WHISTLER, British Columbia ” A buildup of ice is being blamed for the partial collapse of a gondola tower on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia., that left dozens of passengers stranded for hours.
Twelve people were slightly injured among the skiers and snowboarders trapped in the unheated gondolas after a tower on the Excalibur lift buckled Tuesday afternoon. One staff member was also cut during the evacuation process and sought medical attention.
The most serious injury was a fractured vertebrae, Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations for Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.
Forseth said most of the injured had bumps and bruises.
He said the tower failure occurred when water seeped into a splice on a section of tower four on the lift. Water flowed into the tower, then froze, rupturing the splice as it expanded.
It’s “an extremely unusual situation referred to as ‘ice-jacking,'” a statement from the resort said.
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Forseth said he has confidence in the safety systems in place at the resort but acknowledged the incident may leave some people wondering.
“We’re going to work very hard to restore the confidence for those, where it’s been damaged,” Forseth said.
Resort officials said all the gondola cars remained on the line but a number dropped about 30 feet as the line sagged after the tower buckled. Two cars bounced off the ground, injuring several people.
One hung over a creek as emergency crews worked to stabilize the tower before they could attempt an evacuation.
A team of 20 lift maintenance workers spent the night inspecting all the resort’s lifts for similar problems.
The British Columbia Safety Authority, along with resort staff, were conducting a secondary inspection of lifts at the resort Wednesday.
Slopes were expected to be fully open on Blackcomb Mountain, where the Excalibur was in operation, by late Wednesday.
Forseth said the safety authority said the accident was an isolated incident and that inspections had not found any problems.
“We’ll continue to work through the lift system on Blackcomb Mountain,” he said. “All of those will be checked to make sure there are no similar issues and they can operate safely.”
He thanked the local fire department, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and ambulance and medical personnel for their response.
“We are extremely thankful that no one was seriously injured in this incident,” he said.
The resort will host alpine events at the 2010 Winter Games. All events will take place on Whistler Mountain, not Blackcomb where the accident occurred.