INKOM — Thirty-eight people had to be rescued with ropes from the main chairlift at Pebble Creek Ski Area on Sunday morning after a mechanical problem caused the lift to abruptly stop working.
The incident did not result in any injuries — just some cold skiers. The Skyline lift stopped working sometime after 10:30 a.m. on a crowded morning. There were dozens of people on the lift at the time, all of whom became stranded for at least half an hour.
Members of Pebble Creek Ski Patrol used handheld rope guns to shoot rope over the cable above chairs on the lift, then attaching bars for stranded skiers to sit on while being lowered to the ground. While Ski Patrol worked, ski area personnel made the necessary repairs to Skyline lift.
The lift remained closed for the remainder of Sunday but was reopened Monday morning. Pebble Creek General Manager Mike Dixon explained a solenoid shorted and triggered the emergency brake to lock. It took about an hour for staff to get the brake to release, enabling the lift to resume running long enough for the remaining stranded skiers to be transported to the top of the hill.
"It was just a partial evacuation. After we got those people off with the ropes we got the chair running and the ropes cleared," Dixon said.
Dixon estimated the lift is no more than 50 feet tall at its highest point. Dixon said the lift should be reliable as ever for the remainder of the season.
Ski Patrol member Heath Mann said his group managed to get nine skiers off of chairs using ropes within a half hour. Mann said Ski Patrol got to work out the kinks of using rescue tools in a real-life situation and will learn from the experience.
"This happens at every ski area," Mann said. "If anything, we should be using this to reassure the public we are training for a lot of contingencies to help our patrons stay safe on the hill."
Tom Hale of Pocatello was one of the stranded skiers. He said Sunday morning was one of his "best ski days ever" because he was able to get off the lift when it was successfully restarted by ski area personnel. Hale noted the ski area staff spared him several more minutes of being stuck in the cold while awaiting rope rescue by promptly making the repair.
Pebble Creek officials said their ski patrol regularly performs rope rescue training, and Sunday morning's incident proved that training to be beneficial.
Pebble Creek Ski Area was extremely busy on Sunday as evidenced by its full parking lots. The ski area has received more than 40 inches of snow during the past week, making for some outstanding skiing conditions.