Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A windy evacuation

Big flakes dropped into high winds

The Teton ski lift evacuation in face of high winds
I read the forecast --- strong winds --- but I decided to go anyway.
What I got for my skiing experience at the Teton Pass Ski Area in the Rocky Mountain Front was more than the forecast could have predicted.
The snow depth was as good as reported ---- some 50 inches at top, much of it new powder, and 36 inches at the base.
But, the winds howled steadily at more than 60 miles per hour, making my telemark turning efforts futile at times. I was blown off my skis twice and found myself heading for shelter on a couple of occasions.
The winds blew with such ferocity that the chairs on the lift would swing from side to side. I could see they were bolted, but I still held on for dear life. The winds picked up snow, creating white-out conditions.
My fears were realized when the swinging chairs forced the pulley cable up and over, and out of track over the top of the pulley wheels, forcing the lift to a stop.
I dangled more than 20 feet above the snow, not sure what would happen next. The only predictable thing was the wind, which continued to howl, swinging the chairs.
Lucky for us the ski patrol was trained in this sort of thing, and immediately sprang into action.
Within 15 minutes they were at our lift towers. A patrol member had to climb each tower and throw a rescue rope over the top of the tower where another patrol member would catch it, attaching a T-bar evacuation device that would be hoisted up to each chair. Once it arrived you would take a rope that attached to it and put it over your head, just as you would put on a tee shirt, where the rope would snug under your armpits. The evacuation device had a small seat attached to the T-bar that we had to slide under our seats, between the skis. At this point we were coaxed to slide off the chair where the ski patrol members would “catch” us with the rope and lower us to the snow.
This was done very efficiently by these cool-headed patrollers.
Within about 45 minutes they had evacuated the lift.
The closure cost us about 2 hours of skiing, but what the heck, we got back quickly and safely to the lodge and a cup of hot chocolate!
The last few weeks have been among the windiest I can remember along the normally windy Rocky Mountain Front.

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