‘Unpredictable and unseasonable’ weather swings challenge Big White staff

Temperatures went from -30C to 3C in a matter of 48 hours has been challenging for our Outdoor Operations team. Courtesy: Big White

Big White’s outdoor operations team was challenged by “unpredictable and unseasonable” conditions, which resulted in multiple people being left on a lift for nearly an hour, according to a statement released this week.

Resort officials explained that temperatures swung from a rock bottom of  -30 C to 3 C in a matter of only 48 hours and that is part of the reason why the Powder Chair was closed by the team on Dec. 27.

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“They have worked around the clock to groom the runs and to de-ice all of our lifting and tower structures as best as possible under the weather conditions,”  according to the statement.

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“Those who have skied or snowboarded with us before know that the conditions can change dramatically from the bottom stations to the top stations of some of our lifts, which are higher than 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level.

“Over the past few days, we’ve had a tremendous problem with rime ice (blue ice) encasing our chairlifts, haul cables, and running wheels, which are all designed to be de-iced before the lift can start.”

This is a manual procedure and one that Big White said takes an extraordinary amount of experience and safety protocols.

“Each morning, our lift mechanics and operators start at approximately 6:30 a.m. to inspect and go through start-up procedures,” reads the statement.

“The wind has been our enemy for some time at Gem Lake. It is impossible to run the lift with passengers in conditions that we deem to be unsafe. We take into account wind direction, speed, humidity, and temperature. This can also affect the top of the Alpine T-bar, Ridge, Snowghost, Bullet, Cliff, Gondola, and sometimes even the Black Forest.”

Decisions are made with safety as their number one priority, they said.

In the last 48 hours, the resort had a major lift closure on the Powder Chair due to ice falling on two safety pins simultaneously.

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“This safety system is on our newest chair and is state-of-the-art. We haven’t experienced it before, although we have trained for it. The only way we could evacuate riders off the chair was to run on our backup diesel engine, which took just over 56 minutes,” Big White said.

“Protocols were put in place as soon as possible by mountain operations and ski patrol to limit the number of skiers and snowboarders accessing that area.”

It was one of the resort’s busiest days of the season, and they put up rope lines and stop signs as soon as possible.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch everyone in a timely fashion, and numerous guests arrived at the bottom of the lift, which resulted in them having to be turned around and routed through various out trails,” the message read.

Big White officials said in the statement that they are now reviewing on-resort protocols with our teams and lift manufacturers to ensure that if any situational improvements can be made, then solutions will be put in place immediately.


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