A 25-year-old woman spent a cold night on the Excalibur Gondola after staff failed to follow lift operations protocol.
The woman boarded the lift on Mar. 1, between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. at midstation, intending to ride the gondola down to the village. However, the upper section had not been detached at that point and so she headed up the mountain towards the upper station. Shortly afterwards the upper and lower sections of the lift were split, and the top section was shut down for the night while the bottom section continued to run for several hours.
The woman, described as a foreign national visiting the resort, did not have a cell phone, and was not able get off the gondola until 7:15 a.m. the next morning. She was attended to by members of lift ops and ski patrol, and was reported to be in good health with no adverse affects despite the fact she wasn't dressed for the cold.
According to Whistler Blackcomb the temperature was -2 C when she boarded the gondola, dropping to -9 C overnight. She was in the area where the gondola and Wizard Chair cross, and was not able to attract the attention of groomers or other mountain staff.
Whistler Blackcomb released a statement on Tuesday, Mar. 8 to stress the fact that they are taking the situation seriously.
"A review indicates the event transpired because lift operations protocol were not followed, resulting in the passenger loading onto a section of the lift that had been identified as cleared," said the statement. "Whistler Blackcomb has implemented disciplinary measures to the staff member involved. The British Columbian Safety Authority was contacted immediately to report the situation."
Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations, said that it was the first time something like this has happened at Whistler Blackcomb since the late '70s or early '80s. However, despite evidence that the protocols are working, they will make some minor changes to gates at mid station to make people boarding the gondola more visible.
"As far as the protocol goes I think it actually works, but like anything it's not infallible because of people," he said.
Whistler Blackcomb also provided a copy of the end of day protocol for the Excalibur Gondola. The bottom sections runs until 8 p.m., servicing staff housing and the Tube Park, while the top section is closed down after staff have downloaded.
According to the protocol, "To disconnect the upper section of the Excalibur Gondola from the lower line, the lift operator at the top of the lift calls to the mid station lift operator to mark the last cabin; either carrying a person; usually a lift operator or patroller downloading, or referenced by cabin number. After marking the last cabin the lift operator at the top manually closes the cabin doors as they come through the station.
"Upon receiving the call from the lift operator at the top the mid station lift operator manually closes the doors of the cabins ascending from mid station, ensuring no one is in the cabin or attempting to load a cabin on the uphill side..."
Once the marked cabin arrives the two sections are disconnected. If the lift operator on either side is distracted then the process should start again - although in this case Forseth doesn't believe that was the case.