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Big Red Express reopened after mishap Sunday



Big Red Express was back in operation Monday morning, one day after a support compression sheave train came loose and fell off Tower 31, causing Whistler Blackcomb to temporarily shut down the lift.

The mechanical mishap occurred around 9:30 a.m. on a cold, blue-skied Sunday, Dec. 6.

According to Dave Brownlie, president and chief operation officer of Whistler Blackcomb, a "hold-down component" that kept the cable in place came loose and fell to the ground.

A guest reported the incident and the Whistler Mountain lift was stopped so maintenance personnel could assess the situation.

After checking the cable's alignment and other pieces, the crew decided it was safe to temporarily restart the Big Red Express and off-load the approximately 100 people on board. Once everyone was safely removed, Whistler Blackcomb shut down the lift and carried out an extensive investigation with the B.C. Safety Authority.

Brownlie said Whistler Blackcomb was concerned about the incident but thankful no one was injured.

"Anytime there is a lift mechanical fault, it is a concern, regardless of what it is," he said. "The important thing is that when something is identified, we take the right steps for the safety of our guests and employees."

The lift was back in full-operation the next day, Dec. 7, and everything ran smoothly, said Brownlie.

Whistler Blackcomb has not yet determined what caused the component to fall. However, Brownlie said cold temperatures probably aren't the culprit.

"We haven't identified the cause, but that lift has been in operation for 10 winters now, and we have temperature fluctuations like this every year," he said. "Quite frankly, minus 15 degrees Celsius is not exceptionally cold for the mountain environment."

While this is the first time an incident like this has happened on Big Red Express, other chair lifts in Whistler have seen other problems in recent years.

Last year a chair fell off Harmony Express during a night in February. And one of the towers on Excalibur Gondola broke during a cold-spell in December, causing several gondola cars to plummet and injuring 12 people.

Brownlie put these instances into perspective, saying: "Lift transportation is one of the safest modes of transportation."

"Whistler Blackcomb, with 38 lifts and running on a year-round basis, does more lift rides than almost any other mountain resort in the world. As a result, as things happen, we are often leading the industry in identifying any concerns and resolving them for the lift industry."

Whistler Blackcomb Lift Maintenance completed an annual service inspection on July 15, 2009, and B.C. Safety Authority completed another one Sept. 29, 2009. Crews also visually check each lift every morning before operations begin in the winter.