Crews inspect chairlifts before opening Red Lodge Mountain after accident

2011-12-29T11:00:00Z 2012-01-02T13:08:51Z Crews inspect chairlifts before opening Red Lodge Mountain after accidentGazette Staff The Billings Gazette
December 29, 2011 11:00 am  • 

UPDATE 11 a.m.: Crews at Red Lodge Mountain inspected all chairlifts on Thursday morning before opening the ski resort to customers, according to officials at Red Lodge Mountain.

The Willow Creek chairlift remains closed while an investigation is conducted into how a chair carrying two skiers fell off its cable on Wednesday afternoon.

The two teenagers who fell to the ground when the chair detached from the cable were released from Beartooth Billings Clinic in good condition Wednesday night, the resort said in a news release.

INITIAL REPORT: A double chair fell off the Willow Creek lift at Red Lodge Mountain on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m., injuring two young males.

“The two injured teenagers are at the Beartooth Billings Clinic in Red Lodge and (are) in stable condition,” said Jeff Carroll, the mountain’s director of sales and marketing.

Carroll said the chair was about halfway up the slope when it came off. The lift was run until everyone else was evacuated, and then it was shut down. No one else was injured when the chair fell.

“I want to stress that we will not operate that lift again until it’s deemed safe by a professional engineer,” Carroll said. “Hopefully in the next couple of days we’ll be able to piece together how it came off.”

On Thursday morning, the resort's recorded message said that six of its seven lifts would be in operation.

On Wednesday, Carroll said neither the chair nor the chair lift broke. The chair fell when it separated from the haul rope. Why it fell is unknown.

The Riblet Tramway Co. chairlift was installed in 1968. The chair towers rise 35 feet above the ground. The Willow Creek lift operates from above the base of the mountain at the top of Show Off Alley to the Midway Chalet. The chair tops are attached by a grip woven into the heavy steel cable that holds all of the chairs on the lift.

Carroll said he didn’t believe wind was a factor in the incident. The mountain staff shut down the Grizzly Peak chairlift around noon because of high winds.

Much of Red Lodge Mountain’s terrain is owned by the Forest Service. Traute Parrie, Beartooth District ranger, said her office had contacted the Northern Region’s tramway engineer in Missoula to investigate the incident.

“We will definitely be working with the ski area and their insurance company,” Parrie said. “The insurance company will likely want an independent investigation.”

Carroll said all of the mountain’s lifts are inspected each fall by an engineer and receive ongoing safety checks, testing and maintenance.

The mountain has been hosting near-record numbers of skiers this holiday week because it is one of the few ski hills in the Rocky Mountains boasting plenty of snow with all of its terrain open.

Red Lodge Mountain was purchased by JMA Ventures of San Francisco in 2007. On the first day of the ski hill’s operation under its new owners, three lifts broke down. Since then, the company has invested thousands of dollars in upgrading the resort’s facilities. JMA also owns two Lake Tahoe ski areas.

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