A gondola tower at Whistler Blackcomb collapsed Tuesday with 53 skiers and snowboarders on board. No serious injuries resulted from the accident, and all riders were evacuated before nightfall. "We're resuming operations this morning," resort communications specialist Michelle Leroux told OnTheSnow.com Wednesday.
Tower 4 of the Excalibur Gondola on Blackcomb Mountain collapsed at 2:30 p.m. A splice in the tower - a two-part structure -ruptured when ice built up due to recent extreme cold temperatures after water seeped into the joint.
The gondola, built by Dopplemayr in 1994, received its annual safety inspection by the British Columbia Safety Authority (BCSA) within the last six months. Excalibur operates in two sections, the upper acting independently of the lower.
All of the gondola cabins remained attached to the cable when the accident occurred, but two dropped 30 feet to hit the ground when the cable sagged. Twelve riders suffered minor injuries--all treated and released from Whistler Medical Clinic.
A crane secured the lower section's collapsed tower to stabilize the lift for evacuation. Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol evacuated of 53 riders from the gondola with the assistance of the local fire department, RCMP, and emergency medical personnel. The evacuation was completed by 5:51 p.m. in dropping afternoon temperatures that descended into the teens. Riders on the gondola's upper section unloaded as normal.
Resort lift maintenance crews conducted a preliminary inspection of all the mountain lifts throughout the night, reviewing all comparable towers for similar "ice-jacking." The BCSA is expected to complete their inspection of all resort lifts by mid-day today.
Whistler Blackcomb resumed operation at 7:30 a.m. this morning. "We're getting snow right now," Leroux told us, "and people are loading up the Whistler Village Gondola for the Fresh Tracks program." Both Creekside and the village gondola opened on normal schedule for access to Whistler Mountain, with remaining lifts following within an hour.
Blackcomb Mountain lifts remained closed until the BCSA finished their secondary inspection, which was expected to be by noon. Excalibur Gondola, however, will not be in service. Leroux explained two options for skiers and riders to access their favorite stashes on Blackcomb: taking the Wizard Express and Solar Coaster from the upper village or hopping the Whistler Village Gondola up Whistler Mountain to catch the new Peak 2 Peak Gondola over to Blackcomb Mountain.
Recent arctic temperatures, which contributed to the ice build-up on the tower, are also aiding snowmaking. "Temperatures are so cold that snowmaking is pumping out lots of man-made snow at the moment," said Leroux. "We're still skiing with early season conditions, but things are picking up."