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"That's why you test these things out..."
In response to the investigation by the BC Safety Authority the gondola operators implemented new operational procedures and enhancements in order to mitigate the risk of recurrence. These included installing an additional wind meter on Tower #7 where the incident occurred (this is in addition to the three others already in place), setting specific wind speed warning and alarm values for the local conditions that will automatically slow the system in potentially dangerous winds, and installing a camera to monitor Tower #7 for cabin movement, which sends live data back to the operator to better inform operating decisions.
The official opening of the gondola took place on May 16, 2014, and as the first gondolas carried excited visitors to the top, operations were firmly focused on keeping safety a number-one priority. The company aims to protect itself by informing visitors of the potential hazards in the surrounding area. Limited liability waivers are included with ticket sales and signage is posted to inform visitors to take adequate precautions and responsibility on their adventures.
"You have to exercise a certain level of due care and attention because you are providing access," remarks Greenfield.
"But (at the same time) you can only take it so far because at some point you have to allow people to make their own informed decisions for themselves."
Says Dunn: "We advocate the same way that a ski hill works with your responsibility related to using the lift. You are potentially on your own to the extent that you go outside of our tenure."
Out-of-bounds areas are clearly marked, adds Dunn, and the 68-acre tenure around the top terminus — an area including a network of highly-groomed and semi-groomed trails, the suspension bridge and the lodge — are monitored by six patrollers who respond to incidents within the area. The gondola also employs some 25 people trained in lift rescue.
At the outset of the project, there were concerns that Squamish Search and Rescue (SSAR) would be stretched thin due to an increase of incidents requiring its services. The concern was that the gondola would draw more visitors and facilitate more backcountry access to an area previously difficult to reach.
John Howe, President of SSAR, says that it's too early to tell if this is the case. "Clearly there's a significant call volume related to the gondola, but has the call-volume on the Chief gone down as the same volume that the gondola has gone up? There might be just a migration of use," says Howe.
Gondola operators and the SSAR plan to sit down in the coming weeks and consider what improvements can be made, as well as to look at the specific challenges posed by winter.