While the opening of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola will likely be the highlight of the season, the reopening of the lower section of the Excalibur Gondola on Dec. 24 was no less significant.
The lift was closed on Dec. 16 when a tower broke into two pieces, the result of ice-jacking — ice building up and expanding in the tower. Twelve people were injured in the initial jolt, mostly when two cabins struck the ground in the Benchlands area. All were treated and released by the Whistler Health Care Centre on the same day. The upper section of the lift was reopened a few days later from Base II.
With the help of Doppelmayr, the manufacturer of the lift, the tower was repaired last week and cleared by the B.C. Safety Authority to reopen on Christmas Eve.
“I think it was an amazing effort to turn it around as fast as we did,” said Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations for Whistler Blackcomb. “That was a combination of factors, that the damage was not too extensive to any of the components and to the guys and girls on our maintenance groups working diligently and putting in many hours to get it reestablished and opened. They worked very, very hard, and I’m proud of what they did and how much effort they gave it.”
Both the bottom and top sections of Tower 4 were reused in the repair, with some modifications. About half a centimetre was cut from the bottom pipe where the flange plate broke away, once it was determined by ultrasonic sound testing that there was no damage. A new flange plate was welded into place to reconnect to the top piece of the tower. Every inch of the haul rope was inspected to ensure that it was undamaged. Some of the shim assemblies on the tower needed to be replaced, and those parts were shipped from the Doppelmayr factory in Quebec.
Forseth says the accident has resulted in Doppelmayr making recommendations for all of its lift towers. The company has directed resorts to drill holes of up to half an inch into their towers that would allow any excess water to drain out, and resorts are being asked to check the holes once a year to ensure that they are free of obstructions.
Whistler Blackcomb’s fix for Tower 4 also removed a hole that was originally placed near the flange to pour in concrete, and may have been responsible for water getting into the tower.
The damaged gondola cabins are still offline and waiting for repairs.