What’s better? A slow start to the season or an average winter with a chairlift falling off of the line? Nearly two years ago, we experienced something that I never thought I’d ever have to do – Rappelling off a chairlift! That never came to mind when I was making plans for the last day over Christmas break, 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 quite exciting and we made a lot of new friends.
So, how did we end up repelling down from a chairlift?
The original plan for the day was to check out Angora Ridge on our brand new Smokin’ Splitboards. Unfortunately, 1/2 of the crew experienced in the backcountry was decimated by the flu. So instead of heading out there willy-nilly, we decided to get a feel for our new splitboards and dial our gear inbounds. Still recuperating from our New Year’s Eve bash at Steamers, we woke up a bit later than normal. Poking our heads outside, 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 already full, our choice of parking was made for us and we headed to Boulder Lodge instead.
A chair suddenly falls off the line
Everything seemed pretty typical as we rode the Boulder lift up and transferred over to the North Bowl Chair. This lift accesses a ton of good terrain, but since it’s a fixed grip chair, we were only using it to shuttle us over to 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. “Did that just really happen?” Within a few moments, the lift came to a sudden stop. “Uh oh… looks like it did!”
We will evacuate you off the chairlift by repelling you down
Sitting there, we waited patiently unsure what was going to happen next. A few minutes later, a ski patroller appeared under the lift line. He asked us if everyone was OK. Nodding, he informed us mechanics were on their way to determine the best course of action. Fifteen minutes later, we’re then notified that a rescue team was rounded up and on their way. “Rescue team?!? What does that mean?” We’re then informed that they’ll evacuate us off the chairlift by repelling us down. My wife and I were now in pure shock and a little freaked out at the news. After what seemed like an eternity to our frazzled nerves at this point, rescue was in sight but not in the way we originally thought.
Off in the horizon, the team of rescuers appear. One ski patroller scrambles quickly up the tower like a monkey with the line while the others guide the ropes into place from below. Swiftly and safely, each chair’s occupants are slowly lowered to the ground until it was our turn. As the small wooden seat is raised up, we’re instructed to lasso the rope over our shoulders. Scooting slowly off the chairlift and onto the rescue seat, we put our lives into the ski patroller’s hands, figuratively. Grasping onto the metal pole in front of us tightly, we’re slowly lowered down. The fear starts to dissipate and it actually becomes fun. I mean, how many people get to be rescued off a chairlift? Not many!
Landing safely on the ground, they take our contact information and we are allowed to ride down. Strapping into our boards, our adrenaline is pumping from the experience. The sensation is only heightened as we slash through the powder unable to contain our ear to ear grin.
So, how did the ski patrol and Heavenly staff handle the situation?
For what could’ve been a disastrous experience, it actually turned out pretty well. First, we met some great patrollers that call this place home. For example, Kip from Maine. He was very professional and super knowledgeable. 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 along with lunch to help calm our nerves. Frank the bartender, originally from Jersey, made sure that after such a trying moment we would leave happy and upbeat. Most of all, we met a bunch of new friends. What better way to make lasting relationships than to share an unbelievable once in a lifetime moment together? Without something like this we would probably have never met.
I just want to say hats off to Heavenly’s well trained staff. This was a pure freak accident but their prior preparation was evident and it paid off when it counted. So, that’s how you repel down from a chairlift. And as always, thanks Heavenly for another exciting day on the hill!