Experience of a lifetime… seeing a chairlift fall off the line

Repelling off a chairlift on a Sunday?!?! That never came to mind when I was making plans for my Sunday, but believe it or not that’s exactly what happened. How you ask…we’ll get there. Even though we ended up in this predicament, which could be considered unnerving we are none the worse for wear. In fact, it was fun and we made a lot of new friends.


So, how did we end up repelling down from a chairlift?

The original plan was to hit up the backcountry and check out Angora Ridge on our brand new Smokin’ Splitboards. Unfortunately, the half of the Local Freshies that was experienced in the backcountry was decimated by the flu so, the plans were modified to getting a feel for and dialing our backcountry gear in bounds. Next, we decided to head to Heavenly since the holiday rush was dying down and the snow was good. Still recuperating from our New Year’s Eve bash at Steamers we woke up a bit later than normal. Peeking our head out we noticed cloudy skies and temperatures above freezing for the first time in over a week. Typically, we would head over to the Stagecoach Lodge, but since the lot was full our choice of parking was made for us and we went to the Boulder Lodge.

As we slowly ascended past tower 5 a chairlift suddenly fell off the line

Actual chairlift that fell off.

Actual chairlift that fell off.

Everything seemed pretty typical as we rode the Boulder lift and transferred to the North Bowl Chair. This lift accesses a lot of good terrain, but since it is fixed grip chair we were using it to shuttle ourselves the major part of the mountain. As we slowly ascended past Tower 5, for some reason my wife looked over to the descending chairs. With no warning one of the heavy chairlifts suddenly slid off the line dropping swiftly into the snow below with an eerily quiet “poof!” We stared at it in pure shock as the lift continued to climb. Within a few moments, the chairlift operators must have noticed the chair was missing and stopped lift.

We will evacuate you off the chairlift by repelling you down

Sitting there we waited not knowing what was going to happen next. After only a few minutes a ski patroller skied down under lift line asking if everyone was alright. They stated that mechanics were on their way to determine the best course of action. After an additional 15 minutes another ski patroller came by to notify each person that a rescue team was rounded up and they were on their way to rescue us. Every 15 minutes or so ski patrol returned to keep us in the loop with status updates. Finally, one of them said, “we will evacuate you off the chairlift by repelling you down.” My wife and I were in pure shock and trepidation at the news. After what seemed like an eternity to our frazzled nerves, rescue was in sight.

The fresh powder we got to ride after being rescued.

The fresh powder we got to ride after being rescued.

Ski patrol come over the hill and begin the process of lowering people down. One ski patroller was extremely proficient climbing, so he scrambled up the tower in front of us and got the rope over the line while the rest of the patrollers looked on from below. After the rope was in place the guys on the ground set up the line and seat to lower people down. One chairlift after another was rescued until finally it was our turn. The rescue seat was raised up to us and we were told to put the rope over our shoulders. Then they instructed us to scoot slowly off the chairlift until we were fully off the seat. As we were lowered down the fear dissipated and it actually became fun. I mean how many people get to be rescued off a chairlift? Not many! Landing safely on the ground they took our contact information and we were allowed to ride down. Strapping into our boards we were amped from the experience and the sensation only heightened as we slashed through the powder unable to contain our ear to ear grin.

So, how did the ski patrol and Heavenly staff handle the situation?

Adventure AND FREE lift tickets??? Yes, please

Adventure AND FREE lift tickets??? Yes, please

For what could’ve been a disastrous experience, it actually turned out pretty awesome. We met some great patrollers that call this place home. For example, Kip from Maine. He was very professional and super knowledgable. Definitely a guy you want on your side in this kind of situation. Next, Heavenly provided free voucher lift tickets to be used any time as well as a few drinks and lunch to help calm our nerves. Frank the bartender originally from Jersey made sure that after such a trying moment we would feel happy and positive. We also met a bunch of new friends. What better way to make new friends than to share and unbelievable once in a lifetime moment together. Without something like this we probably wouldn’t have met.

I just want to say hats off to Heavenly’s well trained staff. This was a pure freak accident. Their prior prepearition was evident and it paid off when it counted. So, that’s how you repel down from a chairlift. And as always, thanks for another exciting day on the hill!

4 thoughts on “Experience of a lifetime… seeing a chairlift fall off the line

  1. Amazing story! I really appreciate all the details, and the photo of the fallen chair … yikes! I’ll be curious to see what Heavenly (and Vail Resorts) eventually says about the fault.

    One little detail, not to be rude, but the term for the rope work is “rappelling.”

    1. Thanks RaflW for the kind words and the support. Will keep you posted on any news we get from Vail Resorts. Hope your season is going well with more excitement in the snow element in comparison to the mechanical ones.

  2. I met Kip from Maine at Wally’s Hot Springs a few days after this happened, and he told me the story. As you say, a very knowledgeable and professional guy. Glad no one was on the chair that fell. It’s a Riblet lift.

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