Unusual incident at ski resort
The rustic-looking, two-seater Twister chair lift at Crested Butte Mountain Resort truly lived up to its name last weekend, when a swinging chair literally twisted a metal guide assembly and shut the lift down.
Fifteen skiers were evacuated from the lift, according to CBMR general manager Randy Barrett.
Barrett says the problem occurred at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 16.
The Twister lift was damaged after a skier unloaded from the top. When the skier unloaded, the chair began swinging violently, Barrett says, either from the skier pushing away from the chair or simply by the nature of the exit.
As the chair progressed toward the bull wheel at the top of the lift it swung outside of a metal guide. “Due to the swing it got caught in the guide shift assembly,” Barrett says. The power of the lift coupled with the stuck chair caused the assembly to bend out of place, Barrett says, not only immediately stopping the lift, but preventing any more chairs from ascending.
Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, Barrett says, CBMR lift technicians immediately ordered an emergency evacuation of the lift.
CBMR ski patrol director Eric Forsythe says in a lift evacuation a climbing rope is sent over the lift haul cable. With assistance from patrollers, lift passengers are moved and harnessed into an evacuation seat (a lightweight t-shaped seat similar to the lift chairs themselves), which is then lowered to the ground.
One stretch of the Twister lift covers some pretty steep terrain. “That’s one of our big concerns, getting people down into terrain they can’t handle,” Forsythe says.
But Forsythe says the few skiers lowered in this section had no trouble skiing away. All of the skiers were safely evacuated by 4:30 p.m.
Forsythe says it has been at least five years since CBMR had to perform a lift evacuation.
According to the U.S. Patent Office, these particular chair lift guide assemblies were invented in 1971, and became commonplace on many chair lifts of the era, such as the Twister, Teocalli and Peachtree lifts at CBMR.
The assembly is designed to keep chairs in a vertical position as they move around the bull wheels at both the top and bottom lift terminals. According to the patent summary, early ski area operators found that without the assembly the chairs would swing around the bull wheel and potentially pull the lift off track.
Newer, high-speed lifts, such as the Silver Queen Express, use multiple bull wheels, tracks and gears to keep chairs in order as they make the turn-around.
Despite its age, Barrett says this is the first time Twister has experienced such a problem. Similar problems with swinging chairs affecting the guide assembly have happened at Teocalli lift, Barrett says, but not very often, and not quite as bad.
At press time, Barrett said they were still trying to repair the lift, and shooting for a mid-week opening. “We need to fix the cross-arm that has been tweaked, and then the Colorado Tramway board has to come out and inspect it, and we load test the lift,” Barrett says.
A few years down the line, Barrett says, the Twister lift will be re-aligned, bringing the top of the lift near the current location of the Ski Patrol