A chairlift malfunction at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center left one ski patrol member injured, though not severely, and 76 people hanging out for up to two hours Wednesday in Wilmington.
"Basically, the cable slipped from the tower (No. 22 of 23 on that lift) and then was caught by the cable catcher," a metal brace that "prevents the cable and the chairs from falling to the ground," Jon Lundin, spokesman for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority which runs Whiteface, said Thursday. When the cable slipped, the lift ground to a halt.
ORDA officials are investigating why the cable slipped but have determined that it was not caused by wind and that the lift line was never in danger of falling to the ground.
A skier sits on the Little Whiteface chairlift on Christmas Eve at Whiteface Mountain. On Wednesday, the Freeway lift, which is barely visible through the trees at the bottom right, broke with 76 people aboard.
(Photo for the Enterprise — Richard Rosentreter)
Wind was to blame, and chairs did fall, when a lift derailed the day before at the Sugarloaf ski resort in Maine, injuring eight people. Investigators in Maine have said wind contributed to the accident that dropped some chairs 25 to 30 feet into the snow on Tuesday.
Whiteface's problem happened on the Freeway lift (Lift I) on the side of Little Whiteface Mountain, a spur of Whiteface. Freeway was being used as it normally is - by racers and a few recreational skiers. Many of the stranded skiers were young, local racers training with the New York Ski Education Foundation. There were also a few visitors.
The Freeway lift is one of Whiteface's lesser-used chairlifts, according to Lundin. It was built in 1978 and passed inspection in November.
"It's used (by visitors) pretty much during the busy times, during the holidays, and if there's an overflow of skiers," Lundin said of Freeway.
Two of the 76 people stuck on the lift were close to Tower 22, on their way down.
The lift stopped at 10:58 a.m., and the evacuation was finished at 12:45 p.m.
"The ski industry standard for an evacuation is two hours from the time of the incident," Lundin said.
ORDA said ski patrollers began skiing the lift line and notifying the people on the lift about the situation immediately after the lift stopped.
One ski patroller was hurt during the evacuation. She was treated at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake and released the same day.
"First, our thoughts are with those affected and we are thankful that there were no serious injuries," ORDA President/CEO Ted Blazer said in a prepared statement. "The Whiteface crew and responders did an outstanding job following procedure and evacuating the lift, ensuring everyone's safety."
There were about 4,000 skiers at Whiteface at the time of Wednesday's malfunction, Lundin said.
The Freeway lift has 121 chairs and can carry as many as 800 skiers and snowboarders per hour. It is 4,100 feet long and rises 1,458 feet vertically.
Contact Peter Crowley at 518-891-2600 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.