Gondola cars crash to ground
No one hurt in windy mishap at Sunshine
By Sabrina Fabian
Banff Crag & Canyon staff
Tuesday January 24, 2006
Banff Crag & Canyon — The gondola lift at Sunshine Village was forced to shut down early Monday morning after high winds tripped the automated shutdown system and two individual cars fell to the ground.
The lift is not expected to operate today while crews check its condition and do repairs.
The cars were both empty at the time and nobody was injured in the Monday incident.
Crosbie Cotton, director of the National Parks Ski Areas Association who spoke for the resort Monday, said the fact the cars were empty and weighed little at the time contributed to the mishap.
The accident occurred just after the first curve station on the gondola course at around 8:45 a.m. Sunshine Village skiers must ride the gondola to get from the resort’s parking lot to its base area where they can access lifts to take them further up the mountain.
Cotton described it as a minor incident caused by high winds.
“There was a minor incident at the curve station where the wind caught an empty car and it swung it into a station and in trying to get it (going) it fell off about four feet to the ground. The one behind came in, it was empty, and the wind was just howling,” Cotton said from Calgary on Monday.
“The gondola slipped off. It went down about four feet and then slid down a little bit more. The initial drop was about four feet. Then we shut it down.”
“It could never, ever, ever happen if there were people in it because there’s weight there,” Cotton said. “The weight would hold it down against the wind.”
Following the incident, the gondola lift was evacuated and there were no reported injuries.
“We had virtually nobody on the gondola this morning,” Cotton said.
“No one was in any danger ever.”
“We just turned it back on and took everybody off. There were 28 people on the whole gondola,” Cotton said.
David Hardy of Edmonton was on the gondola with his daughter at the time. They were about 10 cars behind the ones that fell off the cable.
“The gondola stopped very suddenly and it moved forward twice maybe about 50 feet each time and then stopped again suddenly,” said Hardy. “And then we waited probably 20 minutes, half an hour and then the gondola resumed and we saw the two gondolas down.”
Hardy said that the wind gust that knocked down one gondola car was so strong that he felt it in his car as well.
“Apparently when you come right around that first corner, that first gondola station, we got hit by a big wind gust. You could actually feel it, it moved our entire gondola over and the guys were saying the wind gusts were hitting 60 kilometres an hour,” said Hardy.
Hardy described the scene that ensued.
“As the gondola came into the first loading station, it apparently got disconnected from the main line. It got knocked off the wheels that catch it and then the second gondola hit it. They both crashed down about 40 feet.”
As the gondola restarted and the people on the lift were evacuated, Hardy was able to see the smashed gondola cars on the ground.
Hardy said it appeared the glass in one car shattered.
Hardy, who had been skiing all weekend at Lake Louise, said he had been looking forward to mild temperatures and fresh powder. He was aware that there were high winds in the Calgary area on Monday, but did not know the extent to which the wind would blow.
According to Environment Canada, there were wind warnings in effect in the Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek area of Southern Alberta, but nothing in the Bow Valley.
The gondola incident has not dampened Sunshine Village’s reputation in Hardy’s mind. In fact, the Edmontonian was quite pleased with the way the authorities at the resort handled the situation.
“I was with my daughter and she was a little upset about the whole thing,” Hardy said on his way back to Edmonton.
“But the hill handled it beautifully. They were very, very gracious about the whole thing. They gave us our money back for the day.”
“Luckily there was nobody in (the fallen gondola cars).”
Cotton said safety is always a top priority at Sunshine Village and other resorts.
“Safety is the number one issue at our mountain resorts and we’ve called in authorities to take a look at it and we’re waiting for the wind to die down and we’ll re-open when the wind slows and we’ve checked everything out to the last potential degree,” he said.
Cotton said that three lifts were running on the hill on Monday, however, according to Sunshine’s website, there were no lifts open. A notice on the website read: “Sunshine Village is closed Monday, Jan. 23/2006 due to high winds resulting in the closure of the gondola.”
Cotton said that winds have caused the system to shut down before, but an incident of this magnitude has never occurred in the past.
“The winds have certainly tripped the gondola in the past,” said Cotton.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he added.
Cotton said the mechanical devices at the hill are built to deal with issues such as high winds.
“Our safety precautions on that gondola are set to the highest standards. So high winds can trip them and stop the gondola. And that’s because we take safety seriously. And when it’s really really high winds, sometimes it’s better to just shut down.”
As of late Monday the gondola at Sunshine was scheduled to remain closed Tuesday and until further notice. The lifts at the base of the lodge area will be open for hotel guests.
It’s the second incident of note at a gondola lift in an area ski resort in less than two months. Back in November the Grizzly Express gondola lift at Lake Louise came to a halt for several hours, trapping tourists and some Bow Valley residents in temperatures lower than –5. No serious injuries resulted from that incident.