Olympic Crash
December 17, 2008 8:18 AM   Subscribe

A tower on the Excalibur gondola at Blackcomb Mountain north of Vancouver collapsed yesterday. Early speculation centres around the possibility of the tower filling with water and freezing. The Excalibur gondola is built by the same company who recently finished constructing the record-breaking Peak2Peak gondola. This is not the first lift incident at the resort, which is set to host alpine events for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
posted by vansly (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe I'll wait a couple months to ride the Peak to Peak.

I wonder what role Intrawest being taken private by Fortress played in this accident. I wonder if Fortress' recent cash crunch woes played a role in reduced maintenance budgets?
posted by Keith Talent at 9:02 AM on December 17, 2008

Reports are saying that normal annual maintenance was performed on the tower this year. I think this will probably hit Whistler hard. Reservations were already down for this season, and the bad press won't help convince people to ski there.
posted by vansly at 9:09 AM on December 17, 2008

The pole snapped and cabins hit the ground. Better pictures here and video here. Makes me wonder if the system is designed to "allow" for a single pole to fail.

The broken gondola was built by Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group who made most of the transportation systems on the ski hills, and I believe are the biggest ski lift company in the world.

The busted gondola was built apparently to replace the Quicksilver Express (see end of article) and this comes after there has been mutliple problems with just getting up to the ski hill (like this)

The Peak2Peak gondola, as the name implies, connects the peaks of the two ski hills and is brand new, huge (here is the safety page for it) and apparently people think that this one will fail as well (hi Keith!). If there is one thing Canadians love to do is worry worry. Worried that the Olympic games will be a failure or won't be exactly right. Of course the rock/mud slides are something that really might get you, like the Hope slide or the Frank slide (wiped out a whole town).
posted by zenon at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2008

At least something is falling besides the market. At least there were only minor injuries.
posted by Goofyy at 9:15 AM on December 17, 2008

It's an unfortunate accident, but it seems silly to think that it will have an effect on this year's ski season at Whistler (other than the fact that a ski lift is out of commission and fewer people will be able to get up the hill). The last accident at Whistler was nearly 15 years ago, when the mountain was under different management. Olympic projects are being completed on time and on budget (except for the Canada Line and the Convention Centre), so it's not like this is the leadup to Athens when nothing was completed. The Sea-to-Sky highway slide has nothing to do with Intrawest - that's a separate engineering issue that the province owns, not the ski hill. And the widening of the Sea-to-Sky is a project that is just enormous in scope. My point is, sometimes an accident is just an accident. There may be human error involved, or design flaws, but sometimes shit happens. Planes occasionally crash.

And while it's an interesting scenario, I also find it difficult to believe that Fortress's current financial woes are affecting maintenance budgets. But, then again, I don't believe 9/11 was planned and carried out by the Mossad.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 AM on December 17, 2008

Makes me wonder if the system is designed to "allow" for a single pole to fail.

What you do, is you wait at the bottom with a clipboard, and count how many gondolas go up before one hits the ground. Then count that many again, and don't take that gondola.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:46 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

OK, holy shit, I had no idea they built a peak-to-peak gondola. That is some crazy shit right there. As if it's not too much mountain to ski as-is.
posted by GuyZero at 10:01 AM on December 17, 2008

Validation of the trepidation. That would be terrifying. Still, you can't help but play the odds.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:51 AM on December 17, 2008

That peak2peak gondola is really crazy. It must be amazing to ride, not to mention the masterpiece of engineering it is.

The support tower breaking on the other gondola is very scary. Super super scary. I'm always skittish when I ride the lifts/gondolas and this doesn't make me feel any better. Good thing that the overall safety record is pretty solid.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2008

These damn things sure seem to break a lot.
posted by Relay at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2008

You'd think something built to be out in freezing precipitation would have safeguards against freezing precipitation.

posted by batmonkey at 11:21 AM on December 17, 2008

"When the water froze, it expanded and caused the tower splice to rupture, an extremely unusual situation referred to as ice jacking..."

posted by markkraft at 11:28 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

You'd think they'd know enough of Frost
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:43 AM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

The lawyer-scary bit is that apparently Doppelmayr (the lift manufacturer) put out a service bulletin 2 years ago warning of this flaw in some of their towers. The suggested solution was to disassemble the tower ($$$$), drill a drain hole between the tower sections, and reassemble/reseal the joints. If Whistler/Blackcomb got the service notice and didn't take any action, they might be in trouble.
posted by anthill at 11:56 AM on December 17, 2008

How can you build something like this and not think "How do we protect it from ice?"
posted by boo_radley at 12:22 PM on December 17, 2008

How can you build something like this and not think "How do we protect it from ice?"

This is Ceti Alpha V!
posted by GuyZero at 1:15 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't even like riding the lifts on the kiddy-ish black hills; theses stories really don't help.
posted by Phire at 1:17 PM on December 17, 2008

I never get on any scary-looking gondolas that weren't built by the Swiss.
posted by Slothrup at 1:24 PM on December 17, 2008

Wow, I've ridden that gondola like 50 times.

Missed me, bitch!
posted by LordSludge at 1:38 PM on December 17, 2008

I booked my Whistler accomdations 3 days ago. No one in our group even considered not going because of this. Still, there was no way I was going to ride the peak to peak even *before* this accident.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:47 PM on December 17, 2008


You must always be vigilant, lest your marketing team be infiltrated by electrical engineers.
posted by oaf at 2:09 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

The thing I don't get is what is the point of the Peak2Peak?

You're standing at the top of Blackcomb, you want to be at the top of Whistler, you can take the Peak2peak, or you can ski 5000 vertical feet to the valley, and take a single gondola back up Whistler to the top. So in essence the Peak2peak reduces the amount of skiing you do. The only time it makes sense is in the spring when you can't ski to the bottom.

It's for people that like riding things and don't really like skiing that much.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:11 PM on December 17, 2008

The thing I don't get is what is the point of the Peak2Peak?

It's quite simple. They are protecting their investment in case they get a shitty season without much snow.

"Skiing earlier and later in the season will be more enjoyable as it becomes much easier to avoid snowless patches, closed runs or time-wasting gondola downloads. Poor snow seasons or snow recession due to global warming will have a minimized effect on Whistler resort with skiers able to ski the tops all day." (source)
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:05 PM on December 17, 2008

Gondola –noun
an enclosed cabin suspended from an overhead cable, used to transport passengers up and down a ski slope or over scenic or treacherous terrain.

From the Italian for 'makea da people weta da pants'.
posted by bwg at 5:08 PM on December 17, 2008

I went to Whistler this year for the first time and had a amazing trip. In fact I booked 2009's trip a few weeks ago. I am SO not telling my wife about this.
posted by shothotbot at 6:04 PM on December 17, 2008

Keith Talent: It's also worth remembering that it takes two or even three lift rides to get to the top of Blackcomb's "mid mountain" from the Whistler base - Excalibur (oops), Excelerator and then Jersey Cream. Gotta wonder if Whistler Gondola + Peak 2 Peak is going to be the quickest way to get up to Blackcomb's "7th Heaven" area on a fresh, powdery morning...
posted by pascal at 7:59 PM on December 17, 2008

Oh, and since I pretty much always upload from Creekside, maybe it means I will ride Blackcomb a bit more often...
posted by pascal at 8:02 PM on December 17, 2008

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