WHISTLER BC, December 17, 2008 – The British Columbia Safety Authority (BCSA), BC’s independent auditor on passenger ropeway systems, has given approval for Whistler Blackcomb to continue regular operations on its mountain lifts, with the exception of the Excalibur Gondola.
“Preliminary inspection by BC safety officers has determined that this was an isolated incident of water contamination in a tower tube which caused a tower joint flange to fail due to ice jacking,” said Greg Paddon, safety manager from the BC Safety Authority. “There is no justification at this time that other installations operating at Whistler Blackcomb have been effected by a similar failure; the BC Safety Authority does not anticipate rescinding operating permits on any lifts currently operating at Whistler Blackcomb other than the upper and lower Excalibur Gondola. Investigation into the incident continues on both the lower and upper Excalibur Gondola; these installations will not return to service December 17, 2008.”
Tuesday afternoon at approximately 2:30pm, a structural failure on tower 4 of the Excalibur Gondola caused the gondola to cease operation. All gondola cabins remained on the line; however a number of the cabins dropped approximately 30 feet with the sagging span, and two cabins hit the ground, injuring several people. Twelve guests were treated at the Whistler Medical Clinic and all walked out on their own accord later that evening. A total of 53 people were evacuated off the affected lower line of the gondola. The evacuation was completed by 5:51pm.
Several factors converged to cause the tower failure. The structure of the tower is such that two parts are spliced together. Water had seeped into the tower which had turned to ice with the recent extreme cold temperatures. The ice build-up caused the tower splice to rupture, an extremely unusual situation referred to as “ice-jacking”. Further investigation by a team of lift manufacturer and independent engineering experts will take place early afternoon today.
“As always, our top priority is for the safety and well-being of our resort guests and employees,” says Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations. “Whistler Blackcomb delayed opening some of our lifts this morning until the BCSA confirmed our findings from last night. After the work conducted throughout last night by our own lift maintenance team, and a secondary inspection that was completed by the BCSA, access to all our operational lifts, with the exception of the Excalibur Gondola, is expected to be available by midday.”
Following BCSA’s inspection, the following lifts are now clear to open: Emerald Express, Big Red Express and Franz’s Chair, in addition to the Whistler Village Gondola and the Creekside Gondola on Whistler Mountain. Wizard Express, Solar Coaster and Excelerator on Blackcomb. Crews have now moved to the Jersey Cream Express and Glacier Express on Blackcomb and both those are expected to be cleared shortly.
The Excalibur Gondola is a Doppelmayr lift, and was installed in 1994. A world-leader in lift design and manufacturing, Doppelmayr lifts are in operation throughout the world and their safety record is excellent.
For further information about Whistler Blackcomb operating hours, open lifts, snow conditions and open terrain, please visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com.