Another PCMR lift malfunctions
March 8, 2006
by Jay Hamburger
OF THE RECORD STAFF
Park City Mountain Resort’s popular PayDay lift malfunctioned Sunday morning, stranding almost 300 skiers and snowboarders, in what was the fourth time a PCMR lift has broken down with people on board in the past two ski seasons.
The resort and the lift’s manufacturer, Doppelmayr CTEC, are perplexed by the breakdowns and promise a widened probe into the latest incident.
Krista Parry, the resort’s spokeswoman, said 280 people were on PayDay when it malfunctioned at 11:15 a.m. The lift takes people from the Resort Center to mid-mountain.
She said ski patrollers spent two hours and 40 minutes evacuating the stranded skies and snowboarders using ropes. The resort’s ski patrol trains for such scenarios and conducted similar operations during the three previous breakdowns.
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Parry said safety is PCMR’s top priority and said that adequate money is spent on safety at the resort.
"We aren’t trying to save a nickel on any of the lifts," she said.
In February, the resort’s Bonanza lift broke down with 175 people aboard, forcing their evacuation with ropes. In 2005, the Silverlode lift stopped working twice, necessitating rope evacuations each time.
The lift company theorizes that the gear box in PayDay failed, stopping the lift.
Jan Leonard, the president of the company, said a lift’s gear box functions like a transmission in a car. Leonard cautioned, however, that the cause of the breakdown will not be determined until crews are able to disassemble the gear box of PayDay.
He said the PayDay breakdown resembles the problems at Silverlode, which suffered a malfunction of the gear box.
"At this point, we’re suspecting it may be the same type of failure but we’re not 100 percent certain at the moment and won’t (be) until we tear into the unit," he said, adding, "it is a piece of mechanical equipment and things do break."
Still, he touts the safety of his company’s lifts.
"Obviously, they’re very, very safe. They’re 100 percent safe, they’re 110 percent safe," he said.
Leonard did not fault PCMR, saying that the problems were in the lifts’ engineering. He said the team investigating the malfunction will consider various causes, including the way electricity travels through the lift’s mechanical system, design problems in the gear box and the materials that make the gear box.
"We’ve got a lot of questions that we now need to certainly get better answers (to) than we ever had before," Leonard said.
He said the gear boxes installed in each of PCMR’s four six-passenger lifts, more such lifts than any other mountain resort, were installed in the 1990s, before the lift manufacturer switched to a system made by Caterpillar. Previously, the gear boxes, including those in PCMR’s six-passenger lifts, were made in Switzerland.
Leonard said 22 lifts in the U.S. use the Swiss-made gear boxes. Problems have not been reported at the other locations, he said. Leonard said he believes that PCMR is the only resort in the U.S. that employs the type of gear box in six-passenger lifts. The others carry fewer people.
The resort aggressively built the six-passenger lifts, often called six-packs, in the 1990s and sees them as giving PCMR a competitive advantage, saying that they provide quick trips up the mountain and reduce lift lines.
Silverlode debuted in 1996, PayDay and Bonanza followed the next year and McConkey’s was installed in 1998.
Foreign resorts successfully use the type of gear boxes in six-passenger lifts, however, he said.
"This gear box is used in six packs many, many, many times around the world," Leonard said.
Parry said PCMR intended to replace the gear box in PayDay with a Caterpillar model and ordered the new one three or four weeks ago. She said the resort is now considering whether to replace the gear boxes in each of the six-passenger lifts.
Bill Malone, the Park City Chamber/Bureau executive director, said he planned to talk to PCMR officials early in the week to listen to the resort’s explanation. He said the previous breakdowns did not hurt business.
"Obviously it’s not a positive experience if that happens to you . . . ," Malone said. "I couldn’t say whether that would cause someone not to come back."
He notes that the PayDay incident occurred at a busy time in the ski season, when lots of people visit Park City during spring break.
"Any weekend from Presidents Day through (April 2) is a bad weekend for this to happen," he said. "It’s probably not a good time for this to happen."
PCMR is replacing the PayDay gear box with the one in the McConkey’s lift, another of the resort’s six-passenger lifts. The resort planned to reopen PayDay Wednesday morning at the latest. If not, the resort suggests skiers and snowboarders access the terrain via the Town Lift, the First Time lift to the Ski Team lift or the Eagle lift to the King Con lift.
The McConkey’s lift will be closed until replacement parts arrive. Parry was unsure when those would arrive. The terrain normally accessed on the lift remains open and is reachable via the Jupiter lift.