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March 2019

Mountain Spy :: March 2019

"I'm afraid of heights and I get really nervous when the lift stops. To help get over that, I want to understand what happens if the lift can't get going again."

Written by Dave Meeker | 0 comment

Mountain 1, WA

First contact: Female, fumbled over her greeting, and we had a good laugh.
SAM: I have a question.
Staff: Well, let’s see what I can do, if you’ll trust me (laughs)
SAM: (laughs) Stated question.
Staff: Well, what they do is, if the lift can’t get going again, patrol comes out and they shoot a rope up over the cable, and they have you get onto a little seat, and they lower you down. It does take a bit of time. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened. (Mentions a couple chairs that have been evacuated in the last couple years) So, they take all precautions. They’re really good at what they do. Just about everyone that has had to be evacuated speaks very highly of the crew that performs it. Have you been here before?
SAM: I haven’t, but I’d like to come visit.
Staff: Oh, great. Well, there are never any guarantees because, you know, lifts are machines. But our crew here is really good, they’re Johnny-on-the-spot. And our lifts have all be professionally inspected. That’s a nationwide thing for all lifts. Chairs can stop for a number of reasons—wind, someone has trouble getting on or off, things like that. Um. That’s about the best I can explain it. Just want to be honest with you about it all.
SAM: I do appreciate that, thank you.
Staff: I will tell you that I have a great fear of heights. I’ve been here for 25 years, and I’m good with the lifts because I’m familiar with them. But I’ve never had to be offloaded like I described, so that’s good. I hope that’s encouraging. Really, no matter where you go there’s a chance that a lift could break, but I think everyone has good procedures in place to get people off as quickly as possible.
SAM: I’ll bet you’re right. I had no idea how that all worked. Speaking of that, you mentioned a seat they lower people down in?
Staff: Yeah, you actually belt into it and they lower you down. The chances of it happening are quite slim. I can’t say that it will never happen! But it’s a slim chance.
SAM: So they train for it?
Staff: Oh, yes, they train extensively. Again, it can take time to get everyone down, but there are always people on the ground communicating with people in the chairs, so that’s good. They help calm folks down if needed.
SAM: I’d probably need that!
Staff: Well, hopefully it never happens to you!
SAM: Agreed. Thanks for taking the time.
Staff: My pleasure. Hope to see you here soon.

Rating: 8
Comment: It took a little prodding to get the full explanation, but she was a hoot from the start, and I appreciate her honesty.

Mountain 2, NY

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose ski information.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: You mean for an extended period of time?
SAM: Yeah. I’ve been on lifts when they’ve stopped for a couple minutes, and it isn’t my favorite. But I just want to wrap my head around what happens if you can’t get it going again.
Staff: So it would require it to stop for 30 minutes or more before we do a lift evacuation.
SAM: A lift evacuation?
Staff: Yeah. That is, you know, sliding down…a rope, to be quite honest with you. That’s the only way to get people off the lift. (holy crap!)
SAM: Sooo, do they just toss the rope up to you or something?
Staff: Well, you know (sounds a little flustered), it’s very, ah, intense (bad word to use here). We go through a TON of training for it, we’re constantly training for it. There’s gear they put on—I mean, it’s not like we just throw a rope up to you and say to shimmy down it, you know, it’s quite a process.
SAM: (laughing, kinda)
Staff: (laughing) You know what I mean? Honest to god. Um, yeah. There’s a lot of training for that. They’re very good at it. It does happen from time to time. But it’s very, very controlled the way they do it.
SAM: OK, cool. So, if I’m having a panic attack up there, is there somebody on the ground that I could tell?
Staff: Yeah, there’s constant communication between the ground crew and anyone in the lift. They’re along the entire length of the lift—we have the ski patrol out there, the lift crew is out there. Basically everybody goes out to attend to the lift evacuation because nothing else is happening until we get everyone off the lift—everything else stops, that’s our priority.
SAM: Wow. Good to know. Is it scary?
Staff: Well, if you’re afraid of heights there will definitely be some anxiety about it. It also depends on where you are on the line, too. Some spots are higher than others. But they’re very good about it, we talk you through it, there’s people there to talk you through it…umm, I don’t know if you’ve ever Googled a chairlift evac?
SAM: No, I haven’t. I didn’t even know it was a thing.
Staff: I would recommend doing that. It’s a standard thing across the board for all ski resorts.
SAM: I’ll do that. Thanks for the info.
Staff: You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Rating: 5
Comment: If I were a guest with a serious fear of heights and was told the only way to get down from a broken lift was to slide down a rope, I would’ve fainted and then sold my skis as soon as I came to. She found her footing, though, and was a bit more reassuring toward the end. But still.

Mountain 3, CA

First contact: Male.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: I see. That’s actually something I don’t have the know-how to answer, sir.
SAM: OK. No problem.
Staff: Our outside operations manager just left for the day, but he will be back tomorrow. If you don’t mind calling back I’d be happy to transfer your call to him and he’ll be able to answer your question. I’m sorry.
SAM: Hey, no worries.
Staff: You could also send him an email and I’d bet he would respond today, if you’d like.
SAM: That’s alright, I’ll just call back tomorrow, if that’s cool.
Staff: Of course, of course. Call anytime between 9 and 4, I’ll transfer your call, and you guys can discuss your question.
SAM: Sounds good. Thanks!
Staff: Have a great day.

Score: 9
Comment: Why such a high score? Because it’s OK if you don’t know the answer to a guest query. All too often, staffers try and fudge an answer rather than a) admitting they don’t know, and/or, b) forwarding the call to a person who does. This guy clearly didn’t know the answer, and the person who does wasn’t there. It happens. Nicely done.

Mountain 4, ME

First contact: Female.
SAM: I’m afraid of heights…
Staff: Join the club!
SAM: I’m glad I’m speaking to one of my own! [Stated question.]
Staff: Yup. Well, oh gosh, um. There’s a backup power for the lifts. So, it should get back going in, like, 10 minutes. There’s auxiliary power.
SAM: So if something were to happen to the main power, then the auxiliary will kick in just in case? It just takes a little bit to get it back?
Staff: Yup!
SAM: And the auxiliary power is, like, foolproof?
Staff: Well, worst-case scenario is they do a lift evacuation.
SAM: Oh. What’s a lift evacuation?
Staff: So, well, actually I don’t have time to explain it right now…
Staff: Well, um, we did a training and I was one of the people up on the lift, and it was very reassuring. I got stuck on the highest tower.
SAM: And as someone who is afraid of heights it was still reassuring to you?
Staff: Exactly. Yup! There’s a harness system, it’s very safe. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel, you know, if I didn’t feel safe.
SAM: OK. Thank you.
Staff: Very good. Bye.

thumbs downScore: 2 (Thumbs Down)
Comment: So, she’s afraid of heights, but doesn’t have time to explain what could be a terrifying situation to someone who is also afraid of heights? That’s kinda messed up.

Mountain 5, VA

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose general information.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: You know, I can transfer you over to see if Glenn is in? He’s ski patrol.
SAM: Sure. Thanks.
Second contact: Glenn.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Well, I’d be glad to help you out with that.
SAM: Thanks!
Staff: So, I don’t know if it helps ease your mind a little bit, but I can tell you that internationally the safest modes of transportation are the aerial ropeways. Across the world. That’s aerial trams, gondolas, and chairlifts. One of the reasons for that is there are so many safeties that go into operating these lifts—several braking systems, several safety systems, things that sense if something isn’t right and shut the lift off so whatever is going on can be addressed before there’s any kind of other issues. Tons of built-in safeties.
SAM: Wow.
Staff: There’s so much that goes into these things. The maintenance that’s required by insurance, it’s like operating an airplane. (Glenn explains various maintenance steps that each lift undergoes, and explains major parts and of a chairlift, including haul ropes and why they are called that.) Haul ropes are evaluated and inspected annually by an expert who comes here with all sorts of tools and instruments to make sure the rope is in good shape. Every year, one-third of the chairs have to be removed and go through what we call non-destructive testing. Again, a third-party expert comes in with tools and, well, essentially x-ray equipment to evaluate what we call the grips (explains what a grip is, what a hangar arm is, etc.). That’s something that’s mandated across the country, at every ski resort everywhere.
SAM: That’s great to know.
Staff: As far as what happens if the chair stops—we’ve had that happen when we’ve lost power to the resort. (Glenn explains bullwheels and motor rooms.) In those motor rooms, the gear set that’s in there is extremely dependable. It’s actually the same gear set that’s in a Caterpillar bulldozer. Extremely dependable. The gear oil in those things is tested annually. We send it off to a lab to get tested and see if there’s any metal shavings or anything that would show wear and tear on the parts. Of course, if they find anything, we have experts come out and fix or replace whatever needs to be done.
SAM: Geez. Very thorough.
Staff: (Explains the variety of backup systems, including diesel and battery backups, in order to get the lift going and get everyone off. Also explains reasons why they’d need to engage these backups.) Now, in the event that something mechanically happens or something were to happen at a tower—which is extremely rare—we have a third backup system, which involves resort staff, me being the chief guy here at Bryce, for a lift evacuation. At some resorts, it’d done with a ground crew. Here, we evac you from the chair. (Explains the trolley used to ride the haul rope to chairs, and the system used to lower guests to the ground, where staff await.) That is a very, very rare instance. However, we practice that particular function on a quarterly basis. So if it does happen, we’re well prepared.
SAM: Wow (I’m about at a loss for words at this point.)
Staff: (Thoroughly explains the braking systems of the lifts, the different levels of lift staff, what they’re trained to do, and what their functions are. Then explains loading chairs, the importance of a safety bar, and why hitting the brakes won’t fling you off a chair.)
SAM: Are you familiar with SAM magazine?
Staff: Yes, I am. I’ve been a subscriber for many years.
SAM: (At this point I couldn’t help but to identify myself and let Glenn know how much I appreciated his thoroughness, confidence, and expertise.)

thumbs upRating: 11
Comment: Glenn Jackson could’ve simply explained how they perform a lift evacuation and called it good. But instead, he started at the 30,000-foot level in order to instill confidence in and ease the mind of an acrophobic guest. Clearly he’s the right guy for the job. Glenn is a retired Fairfax County firefighter, which only boosts my respect for him.

Identity revealed: Bryce Resort, Va.

Mountain 6, NH

Answering phone: Automated machine. Chose guest services.
First contact: Female.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: (I can tell she talks with a smile, which is great) At the beginning of every season, every liftie is trained for evacuation. So if the lift can’t run, they try to get you down as quickly as possible. I’m not exactly sure hooow they do it? They, ah, usually try to get all the chairs to the end of the lift. We don’t usually have that happen. We haven’t had it happen all season.
SAM: Oh, good.
Staff: I can ask my co-worker to see if she knows more about it. Can I put you on hold for a second?
SAM: Sure. (holding… for more than two minutes)
Staff: Are you still there? (were you hoping I wasn’t?)
SAM: I am!
Staff: OK, so we do have a backup generator so they would try as hard as they could to use that and get the lift back going. But if it didn’t get back going we have, like, a chair, that they would throw over the line. It’s like on a pulley system so they’d have you sit on the chair and they’d lower you to the ground while you’re harnessed into that chair. It would be ski patrol doing that.
SAM: Gotcha. OK.
Staff: Yeah, so they’re all trained and everything. We do the evacuation process at the beginning of every season.
SAM: That’s good to know.
Staff: And our lifts aren’t very high off the ground because we do get high winds, so they’re not high at all.
SAM: That’s a good thing for me!
Staff: Yeah, it’s always good to know. That way you don’t panic when it stops!
SAM: For sure. Well, hopefully the lift won’t stop while I’m on it. Thanks for the info.
Staff: No problem!

Rating: 5
Comment: Lots of ups and down here (pun intended). She was very pleasant and positive, mentioned training from the start, and offered reassurance that the lifts aren’t very high. However, the description of the evac was a little scary, and I was on hold for a long time. Yes, I will panic a little if the lift stops with me on it at this place.

Mountain 7, MA

First contact: Male, didn’t identify himself.
SAM: Stated question.
Staff: Ahh (giggles a little), they do an evacuation.
SAM: An evacuation?
Staff: Of the lift, yeah. They basically have a pulley that goes up over the cable, and a seat that you’d get in, and they’d lower you down to the ground.
SAM: Whoa. Gotcha.
Staff: So, at the beginning of the season, sometime in October, they do a dry run of the evacuation. They put people up on the lift and actually lower them down, to practice. It might be interesting for you to come over next fall and watch that.
SAM: Oh, yeah. That does sound interesting. So they train for it?
Staff: They do, they do. The ski patrol trains all the time for this stuff.
SAM: Nice. So does it happen?
Staff: Well, it has happened. It’s never happened to us here, really. I mean, it’s not often they have to do that. There are a number of different safety factors on the chairlift, so they can crank ’em up and can usually get people off at the top without having to evacuate. But the ski patrol trains a lot. They have to have the credentials to do all that stuff.
SAM: Glad to hear they’re prepared for it. I had no idea.
Staff: Yeah, yeah. Basically the insurance companies watch to make sure it’s all done right!
SAM: Oh, is that right? (laughs)
Staff: Yeah, well, they’re the ones that are gonna pay out if something happens, ya know?
SAM: Right, right.
Staff: Usually when a lift stops it’s because someone has fallen at some point, ya know (that’s terrifying to hear), or is having problems getting off the lift or something. Very rarely will we have problems with the lifts, because they’re inspected on a regular basis. Have you ever been here before?
SAM: I haven’t, but was planning on it.
Staff: OK, well our lifts are not that high.
SAM: That’s a relief!
Staff: I have a fear of heights myself, and I’ve never had a problem on ours.
SAM: Glad to hear that. I appreciate the info.
Staff: Alright. You have a good one.

Rating: 4
Comment: Nice guy. I liked hearing they train a lot, and the offer to come check it out was good. But words are important, here: fear of heights coincides with a fear of falling. Be specific or I’m gonna faint again.