“Hey, it’s not ready, man”
High speed winds forced the Red Lady Express lift at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) to shut down for over three hours on Saturday, December 1, but without a second lift available resort guests had no choice but to wait or start hiking.
The brunt of a snowstorm that ultimately left 29 inches of powder in its wake came on Saturday morning, as wind gusts over 40 miles per hour sent the snow flying sideways at times.
According to CBMR general manager Randy Barrett, the wind was blowing from an unusual southwesterly angle.
“This happens very rarely on the Red Lady lift, but the wind was from just the right direction with the right speed that chairs would start swinging as they came down over tower three,” Barrett says.
He says the chairs and haul cable on the downhill side of the lift line were getting pulled off the guide wheels of tower three and dragging on the tower’s metal flanges. “We could not run the lift until the wind died down, and it just kept blowing and blowing,” he says.
Barrett says the Silver Queen Express lift was close to being ready for daily operation, but it wouldn’t have served as a backup for the Red Lady. “If the Red Lady Express is having issues with wind, then the Silver Queen is equally impacted,” Barrett says. The Paradise Express lift was operational at the time, running into the wind but relatively protected by terrain, Barrett says. Skiers had no way to access the lift unless they were already in Paradise Bowl or unless they hiked up from the base, something the resort allows in these circumstances, Barrett says.
Barrett says a number of people were on the lift when the winds picked up, close to 10 a.m., and the lift was run at very low speed to let the riders off. He says at tower three crews used a huge winch to lift the haul cable back on the tracks.
Snowboarder and Crested Butte resident Louis Goldsmith says he got to the resort on Saturday around 10 a.m. “The lifts were already shut down and there were 1,000 people out here,” he says. Goldsmith says some of his friends hiked up Lower Houston run to gain access to Paradise Bowl. He says he considered joining them, but decided the deck of Butte 66 was his best course of action. “People were having this huge snowball fight between the deck and the base. There was a lot of drinking going on. I think people were having fun,” Goldsmith says.
Goldsmith says the lifts started up again around 1 p.m. He waited another half-hour for the existing line to clear out a little.
CBMR lift-ticket checker Matthew Abel says nobody stayed in line the entire time the lifts were down, but there was always a crowd nonetheless. “A lot of people from the front of the line left, and people in the back left, and then people in the middle moved up,” Abel says. “At first they were yelling at us to open it up. We just said, ‘Hey, it’s not ready, man.’ Once they figured out it wasn’t going to open up for a while they were like ‘Whatever.’”
Abel says he and his fellow ticket checkers weren’t involved in getting the lift back online and mostly served as crowd control during the down time. “We got an hour break, but it was while the lift was down, so I couldn’t really snowboard,” he says.