By Vivian Moreau
Unlike Lake Louise, Whistler-Blackcomb shouldn’t ever have to rappel stranded skiers off gondolas, says a top manager.
And even though a mechanical problem shut down the upper line of the Whistler-Blackcomb village gondola on Saturday, Brian Finestone, assistant mountain manager, says a series of checks and balances is designed to avoid the situation that Lake Louise Ski Resort had Sunday, with 75 visitors trapped in gondolas for almost five hours. Skiers had to be harnessed off the resort’s almost 3,000 metre lift. A faulty safety switch was blamed.
Finestone said Whistler-Blackcomb’s gondolas have multiple drive systems that can run for several hours on diesel if power is disrupted.
“And even if we were ever to get to the point of using ropes, all ski patrol members and even electricians are trained in rope access evacuation,” he said.
However, on Saturday the village gondola’s upper line had a “cumbersome” drive system problem, which would have required the line being frequently interrupted during repair, so skiers were shuttled to Creekside access 5 km away.
“Rather than repeatedly stop and start the gondola for guests, we decided to use (four) shuttle buses to get them to Creekside,” Finestone said.
Finestone says in his 13 years at Whistler-Blackcomb there has never been an instance of having to rescue guests from gondolas that, depending on snowpack, can be as high as 12 metres above ground.