The final run of the day turned into a lengthy one for some skiers and snowboarders at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort on Sunday afternoon, as approximately 75 guests were left stranded on the resort’s gondola. All eventually had to be evacuated, with the final guests being roped to safety by 9:00 p.m.
A large-scale electrical malfunction caused the Golden Eagle Express gondola and the Catamount chairlift to stop around 3:00 p.m. Resort personnel were able to get the Catamount chair restarted an hour later, but they weren’t able to do the same with the gondola because it is a much more complex lift, with a series of additional safety systems that need to be operational in order to have it run safely.
“The electrical issue destroyed the functionality of the safety system for operations. We physically would never run a lift without safety systems,” said Matt Mosteller, senior vice president of marketing and resort experience at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Kicking Horse’s parent company.
“Even if we had further opportunities for backup power, we still couldn’t run it without that safety system in place.”
The evacuation began around 4:00 p.m., when it became apparent that repairs to the gondola could not be completed on Sunday night.
“At that point we decided that we would go for a manual evacuation,” Mosteller said, adding that the operation included help from Golden and District Search and Rescue, Canadian Ski Patrol and Alpine Helicopters in addition to the resort’s safety team.
“We’re very fortunate to have a super highly trained and professional team engaged in this,” Mosteller said.
Guests in gondola cabins that were low enough to the ground were evacuated by a fixed rope line descending from the cabin itself, but cabins that were too high off of the ground were evacuated by helicopter. Eight teams of rescue personnel evacuated the guests over the next five hours, and all were off the mountain by 9:00 p.m.
Local skier Rob Wilson was one of those stranded on the gondola, sharing a cabin with five others. Initially Wilson didn’t think much of the stoppage, which occurred directly over the Grizzly Bear Refuge, but got curious the longer the interruption went on.
“It went on, and on, and on,” Wilson said, adding that someone from his cabin eventually noticed that a couple of patrollers were evacuating the gondola ahead of them.
“Then we (saw) a helicopter way at the top of the mountain doing an evacuation.”
Wilson and the rest of his cabin were evacuated around 6:00 p.m. by a fixed rope and dropped into the refuge. They later skied to the base under starlight while being escorted by patrollers.
“Everyone was starting to get cool, I’m glad we didn’t have to wait any longer,” Wilson said.
Wilson says he doesn’t blame the resort, saying that these things happen and are unavoidable.
Rescued guests were looked after and given hot meals and hot drinks and no injuries were reported as a result of the incident.
“Thanks very much for the huge patience of our guests (with) them being put into this very unfortunate inconvenience,” Mosteller said.
The malfunction also affected Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, but the rest of the resort remained operational. The gondola was still down as of Monday morning, though Mosteller said that the resort was hopeful it would be running again by the afternoon.