Weather conditions contributed to the unexpected electrical fault
By Alissa Johnson
An electrical fault on the Silver Queen lift stranded skiers and snowboarders in the air last Friday in cold and blowing conditions. While some were stranded for more than an hour-and-a-half, the lift is fixed and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) says it’s ready for holiday visitors.
According to information provided by CBMR, an electrical fault caused the Silver Queen lift to shut down at approximately 3:40 p.m. on Friday, December 16. According to vice-president Erica Mueller, the resort was preparing to shut down the lift due to increasing winds just as the fault occurred.
Though conditions prevented the lift maintenance team from identifying the cause at the time, Mueller said it now appears that the blowing conditions caused an electrical safety check to freeze and crack.
“It’s a quick repair once you find it,” Mueller said, noting that unfortunately conditions made it unsafe to reach Tower 17 and assess the exact cause. When a repair wasn’t possible, the resort focused on getting guests off the lift as quickly and safely as possible.
In a letter to the editor (see page 3), Mueller and CBMR president Michael Kraatz explained, “When an immediate fix wasn’t going to happen, an auxiliary motor was started to unload guests safely and close down for the day. Unfortunately, due to the intense snowfall and cross wind affecting the lift near Tower 17, the extreme conditions resulted in a longer-than-expected delay in off-loading passengers.”
Ski patrol and lift operations met guests at the top of the lift to direct them to Patrol Headquarters to warm up, though many opted to ski down to the base area right away.
KBUT news director Chad Reich was one of those passengers on the lift, and he estimates he was stuck there for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. “There is not a lot to do up there. I would have done the things you do when you’re stuck on the lift, but it was frankly too cold and too windy to really get anything accomplished, so I just sat there with my head down and maintained.
“It was pretty cold, and I ended up skiing down in near-dark conditions. With that said, having zero people and a freshly wind-loaded pow slope to fly down was a pretty nice way to finish the day! The worst part of the whole experience was the ‘screaming barfies’ you get when frozen feet hit a hot shower. Overall, it was a wild experience, and I was just glad to get home,” Reich said.
The resort was able to use lift scans to identify passengers after the fact, and is offering everyone a free lift ticket for future use. Mueller has also been e-mailing pass holders to apologize for the experience. Unfortunately, due to some extenuating circumstances, the lift did not reopen until Sunday.
“The Queen is good to go. The weather just got the best of us for Saturday,” Mueller said.
Early Saturday morning, ski patrol had to duplicate much of the prep work that had been done to open the East River lift and terrain due to the extent of snowfall and high winds. That delayed the opening of that terrain until 10:30 a.m. And while the lift maintenance team worked on that as well as opening Gold Link, they found that a tree had fallen and landed on top of the Silver Queen.
According to CBMR’s letter, “Once damage from the fallen tree was cleaned up, the electrical problem was resolved and the lift was ready for a safe opening on Sunday morning. It took longer than any of us would have liked, but we are addressing these concerns in hopes that this doesn’t happen again.”
Mueller emphasized that the situation was the not the result of poor lift maintenance, and contrary to rumors circulating through the community, the lift maintenance team is fully staffed. While outside experts are sometimes brought in to help with specialized maintenance, the lift maintenance team oversees all maintenance and repair on the mountain.
Mueller did acknowledge that the team, though experienced, is somewhat new to CBMR and developing an intimacy with the intricacies of each lift. That didn’t play a significant role in the weekend’s challenges, however, and Mueller emphasized that the Silver Queen and all CBMR lifts received regular maintenance this summer as part of standard operations.
“In every maintenance program for every lift, we have a summer maintenance checklist. And with every lift, we can’t get a license if we don’t do everything that is a part of that checklist,” Mueller said.
Mueller also confirmed that the Twister Lift has not become a source of parts for other lifts. Two chairs have been removed to replace grips on the Teocalli Lift, but the resort is not dismantling it. “That is a false rumor,” she said, though she did note that it is unlikely to run this year.
“It’s been a couple of years since we’ve run it, so it likely does need quite a bit of attention. We would rather focus on other lifts since it is a redundant lift,” Mueller said.
Overall, Mueller emphasized that the lifts are good to go, and she doesn’t foresee issues during the upcoming holiday season—the Silver Queen closure was the result of unfortunate weather conditions. She did, however, ask that pass holders and visitors help ski patrol and lift maintenance—both teams have been working extremely hard to keep lifts and terrain open—by paying attention to rope closures.
During the evacuation of the Silver Queen, word of a lost skier could have greatly complicated things. Thankfully, it was a false alarm, but it was a good reminder that staying in-bounds is important.
“Ducking the ropes is dangerous for the skier or snowboarder and also dangerous for the ski patrollers that have to go and recover them,” Mueller said.