The Whistler Village Gondola opened last weekend after all.
The lift, a primary point of access for the Roundhouse restaurant and several runs on Whistler Mountain, was shut down January 10 for maintenance after an internal oil pump wasn't doing enough to lubricate a bearing in the main drive gear box.
Whistler Blackcomb staff first learned of the issue on January 8, reporting the smell of oil wafting off the gondola. Lift maintenance staff were notified and they came in to check the oil levels, according to Doug Forseth, the company's VP of operations.
"They came in, checked oil levels, everything was inspected and seemed to be in the operating range," he said. "Nothing further was expected at that point."
However two days later a lift operator heard a noise, felt a vibration in the gondola and shut it off, stranding 270 skiers and snowboarders on the lift for two hours while it was minus 14 degrees Celsius at the Roundhouse. There were no reported issues relating to hypothermia or frostbite and stranded skiers and riders were compensated with free lift tickets, a lunch voucher and hand/toe warmers.
Parts had to be distributed from Grand Junction, Colorado and a repairman flown in from Zurich, Switzerland in order to get the lift moving again. Forseth said the repairs were finished last Saturday afternoon and the company went into testing mode in the evening hours to make sure they were satisfactory.
Whistler Blackcomb then announced on its Facebook feed at 6 p.m. that the gondola would open the next day. The company really made that news public at the Deep Winter Photo Challenge on Saturday evening, where a sold-out crowd in the ballroom at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler let out a loud cheer at hearing the news from host Mike Douglas.
With the recent breakdown, questions arise as to the future and the current condition of the lift.
The Whistler Village Gondola, manufactured by Leitner Poma of America, was installed on the mountain in 1988. It has since undergone a number of upgrades including a $4 million project in 2007 to increase its motor capacity and attach newer, more comfortable cabins, the latter of which Whistler Blackcomb has yet to complete.
Forseth said the Gondola has plenty of life in it yet.
"I'd say right now it's still got a pretty good runway in front of it," he said. "(Lifts) don't have a life, per se. It's like a car, you know, anything mechanical. As long as you can rebuild it, and there's parts and components available that are financially responsible to get a hold of... you can run it for an indefinite period of time."
Asked about the possibility of further upgrades happening on the lift, Forseth said replacing the cabins is on the company's list of things to do but hasn't yet set a date for when it will do that.
Whistler Blackcomb plans to install eight-passenger, sit-down cabins on the gondola that will allow for more seating compared to the status quo, which allows skiers and snowboarders to lean against the sides with only a small cushion serving as a seat.
"We will be able to be more efficient and effective at getting people up the hill," Forseth said. "With the improvements we did on the lift, last time we did this major improvement on it, we can also add more cabins because the motors are big now."