For the week of January 27, 1999   thru February 2, 1999  

Computer glitch forces lift evacuation

25 skiers, boarders lowered to safety

Express Staff Writer

liftevac2.jpg (8345 bytes)A skier is lowered from a chair on the Greyhawk lift Sunday after a computer glitch halted operations.
Photo 1999 Karl Weatherly

A computer glitch combined with a backup-generator breakdown caused the evacuation of riders on the Greyhawk chairlift on the Warm Springs side of Bald

Mountain Sunday.

About 25 skiers and snowboarders were evacuated and no injuries resulted, said Sun Valley Ski Patroller and evacuation coordinator Mike Lloyd.

The high-speed, detachable quad employs three computers, one at the top, one at the bottom and one at the electronic drive terminal, lift maintenance manager Robb Thomas said. At about 11:45 a.m., the computers stopped communicating with each other, causing the lift to stop, he said.

The lift does, however, have a diesel backup engine, Thomas said, but the engine’s starter broke. The bearings in the starter froze, he said.

Thomas said the lift-maintenance crew has a spare starter for the diesel engine, but after evaluating the situation it was determined that it would be faster to evacuate the lift.

"The ski patrol was standing by," Thomas said, "and a rope evacuation was started."

In the evacuation process, Lloyd said his job was to dispatch patrollers to the chairs from the top of the lift. Patrollers were sent to Lloyd from evacuation leader Rich Bingham, who was at the top of the mountain.

Five rope teams consisting of two patrollers and a guest services representative each were staggered at three intervals over the length of the lift, Lloyd said.

A messenger line, which is attached to an evacuation rope with a looped harness, was fed from the lift towers to the chairs, Lloyd said. On the chairlift, the evacuation rope was passed through a permanent hook designed for evacuation purposes and a setup resembling a top-roped belay was created.

The patrollers, wearing harnesses and standing on the ground, pass rope out at a controlled rate using a figure-eight belay device. The rope passes through the hook on the chair and lowers the skier or snowboarder to the ground, Lloyd said.

The entire process took about an hour, he said.

Local resident Karl Weatherly was on the lift when it broke down and was one of the approximately 25 people evacuated.

He happened to be on a chair with two of his good friends, he said.

"We were in the sun for most of the time," he said of his hour-and-a-half wait on the lift. "We just hung out and had good conversation."

He added that without the sunlight, it could have gotten pretty cold.

Thomas said the software for the lift’s computers was reinstalled and the diesel engine’s starter replaced later Sunday afternoon. The lift was working before the end of the day, operating without any glitches, he added.

"The ski patrol did a dynamite job," Thomas said. "I was definitely impressed with their professionalism."

Lloyd said people were generally happy when they got off the lift, "happy to be down."


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