It could take a month or more for the B.C. Safety Authority to complete its investigation into the Dec. 16 Excalibur accident, which left 12 injured and shut down the lower section of the lift indefinitely until Tower 4 can be repaired.
Greg Paddon, a safety manager with the B.C. Safety Authority (BCSA), was hesitant to give an estimate until he was further along in the investigation.
“I would say it’s going to take a good part of January just to review all the information we get in from the field, and it’s going to be quite a bit (of information),” he said. “That’s six weeks, but if there is an opportunity for an interim report where we can release some of our findings… then we would release an interim report.”
In the meantime the BCSA has issued an alert to other ski areas to check their towers for water intrusion, advising them to shut down lifts if water is detected, and to take steps to remove it after consulting with the lift manufacturers on the best method.
It’s believed that water seeped into the Excalibur’s Tower 4, froze and expanded and caused the top section of the tower to separate from the bottom half. The process is called “ice jacking,” and is similar to what happens when pipes freeze.
Doppelmayr, the manufacturer of Excalibur, did send out an alert about water intrusion on Dec. 31, 2006 after a tower burst at Silver Mountain Resort in Idaho. The Idaho failure happened while the lift was closed. No one was injured.
Whistler Blackcomb and the BCSA acknowledged receiving the alert.
However, Tower 4 was partially filled with concrete to provide dampening for the lift, making it almost impossible to test for water by tapping the tower. The tower was supposed to be sealed against water and there was no evidence of water intrusion, such as rust marks or ice around the flanges where the top and bottom sections were joined. There’s no word as to where the water came from.
The top section of the Excalibur, which operates separately from the bottom section, was cleared to run by the BCSA on Saturday, restoring upload capacity to normal levels for the busy Christmas season — 12,000 people per hour at five uploading stations on Whistler and Blackcomb.
People using the Tube Park, which is expected to open for Christmas, will be able to access the area by the Magic Chair, while staff at Base II can now ski out to the base of Whistler and Blackcomb, obtain subsidized transit passes, and use the Magic Chair to get up and down the mountain. If needed, Employee Experience director Joel Chevalier says they are ready to use Whistler Blackcomb’s shuttles to move staff around.