"Whistler Blackcomb, the BC Safety Authority and Doppelmayr senior directors are working around the clock to move forward on the investigation into Tuesday's tower collapse on the Excalibur Gondola, and to restore public confidence in one of the world's most sophisticated resort lift systems." said a resort statement tonight (Thursday, December 18).
At approximately 2:30pm PST on Tuesday, December 16, a structural failure on tower 4 on Blackcomb Mountain's Excalibur Gondola caused the gondola to cease operation. Part of the tower toppled sideways causing some gondolas to sink towards the ground a short distance below. No gondola cabins came off the line. There were several injuries but all minor and 53 guests were treated at the Whistler Medical Clinic for minor cuts and bruises and all left later in the day.
The cause of the tower failure was confirmed by early Wednesday morning, and was due to an extremely unusual situation called "ice-jacking." The structure of the tower is such that two parts are spliced together. Water had seeped into the lower section of the tower and turned to ice with the recent extreme cold temperatures. While extremely cold temperatures are not uncommon at a ski resort, the water had accumulated to a point whereby the pressure from the ice created a rupture that separated the two sections of the tower. The force of the ice expansion and the subsequent rupture has been estimated at 800 tonnes of pressure.
According to the lift's manufacturer Doppelmayr and the BC Safety Authority, there is only one other known incident involving lift tower structural failure and ice-jacking. This incident took place at a USA ski resort in 2006.
"The towers are not normally designed to allow for any water penetration and so this failure is a very unusual situation," says Warren Sparks, senior vice president of Doppelmayr Canada. "Our attention now has shifted to understanding how this water penetration has happened and we have independent structural engineers reviewing the tower from Vancouver-based CWMM Consulting Engineers Ltd. The evidence found so far indicates a sudden rupture rather than a fatigue failure over an extended period."
"The BC Safety Authority does not anticipate rescinding operating permits on any lifts currently operating at Whistler Blackcomb other than the upper and lower Excalibur Gondola." said Greg Paddon, safety manager from the BC Safety Authority.
"This has been a very difficult 24 hour period for Whistler Blackcomb and the days to come will no doubt continue to be challenging as we work through the issue," says Doug Forseth, Whistler Blackcomb's senior vice president of operations. "But at the end of the day, regardless of our challenges ahead, we are so thankful that the injuries sustained were not more serious and that the lift evacuation went as smoothly as it did."