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Harmony chair falls during night

Mounting bolts all replaced, safety authority and manufacturer satisfied

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Broken chairlifts have been a recurring theme at Whistler this season.

On the evening of Feb. 18, Whistler Blackcomb employees discovered a problem on Whistler Mountain's Harmony Express chairlift, a vehicle to some of the most popular alpine terrain in the resort. A control panel showed a cable monitoring switch fault on tower 11 at about 10:30 p.m. The crew reset the fault to ensure the cable was aligned properly.

"During regular maintenance on the Harmony Chair... the crew was doing routine carrier inspectors," said Wayne Wiltse, Whistler Blackcomb's lift maintenance manager. "They had a tower rope position system out of alignment indication."

The next morning, at about 7:15 a.m., a groomer discovered that a chair had fallen off the lift's cable to the base of tower 11. Inspecting the chair that morning, a maintenance crew discovered that a "sheave train component" on the downhill side of Tower 11 had failed, causing a compression sheave train arm to move into the path of a chair, making it fall.

The component that failed was an "articulation arm mounting bolt" and all similar bolts have since been replaced.

The Harmony Express was closed Feb. 19 and 20, forcing skiers and riders to access runs like the Saddle via the Peak Chair.

The B.C. Safety Authority and lift manufacturer Leitner-Poma were notified and helped investigate the incident, according to a Whistler Blackcomb news release. All parties are now satisfied, according to the release, and the problem's been fixed.

The incident occurred between 10:30 p.m. and 7:15 a.m., and thus outside public operation hours.

"Because it was the middle of the night, and because there was no public on the lift, (the crew) reset the fault," Wiltse said.

"During public operation, I just want to make everybody aware, during public operation, when we have a fault like this, the first thing that we do is send a maintenance technician directly to the site to visually ensure that the rope is in the correct position on the tower."

This is the third incident with a lift that's occurred at Whistler this season. The most high-profile incident involved the Excalibur Gondola that takes skiers and riders to Base II on Blackcomb Mountain. Back in mid-December, "ice-jacking" caused a break on Tower Four of the gondola.

Water, it was believed, had seeped into the tower and frozen in extremely cold temperatures. Expanding ice then caused the top of the tower to sheer off at the part that connects the upper and lower parts of the structure that had been bolted and welded together.

The incident injured 12 people and stranded 53 riders in mid-air on the gondola for about three and a half hours.

In another incident on Feb. 2, a power failure on the Symphony Chair stopped the lift for almost two hours. Wiltse said that incident involved an electrical cable tack and had no connection with the Harmony incident.

"Our maintenance crew, we have total confidence in their ability to ensure guest and employee safety are paramount," he said. "The maintenance crews work every day, at night, to ensure the ongoing safety of the lifts through our comprehensive maintenance programs."

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