Steamboat Springs A mechanical failure shut down Steamboat Ski Area's Storm Peak Express lift just after 9:30 this morning, stranding about 70 skiers and snowboarders on the lift for more than two hours as Ski Patrol crews lowered people to the ground with ropes, harnesses and small metal seats.
No injuries, except for cold toes, were reported as a result of the shutdown.
"It was like rappelling," Maryland resident Neil Brodsky, 54, said of being lowered to the ground by Ski Patrol. "Once I was in the seat and had the rope over me, I was pretty comfortable."
Brodsky said he and family members sat on the lift from 9:30 to 11:40, stuck at a spot just before Burgess Creek ravine, near the landmark tree adorned with undergarments and clothing of ski area visitors.
Ski Patrol Supervisor John Floyd said the Burgess Creek area was the most challenging part of the evacuation, as Ski Patrol crew members scaled lift towers more than 70 feet high to attach ropes and seats onto the lift line, from which ground crews could move the equipment to people stranded on the lifts.
"When we lowered people down (in that spot), they were in willow bushes or almost in the creek itself," Floyd said. "But it all went very smooth."
Andy Wirth, vice-president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said ski area crews are well-trained for such situations.
"Our ski patrol staff is some of the best in the nation," Wirth said.
Wirth said the mechanical problem occurred in Storm Peak's "gearbox," which he described as the transmission for the lift. Early Friday afternoon, Wirth said ski area maintenance crews were still diagnosing the problem. Wirth did not know how long the Storm Peak will be out of operation.
The shutdown occurred at the beginning of the busy Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Monday is a holiday.
"There's no question that Storm Peak Express is one of the great lifts on the mountain," Wirth said. "But at the same time, our lift system and redundancies put us in a great position to mitigate the situation."
The ski area's Bar-UE lift runs roughly parallel to Storm Peak Express. Skiers and snowboarders can also reach the summit of Storm Peak by riding the new Sunshine Express lift or the Sundown Express lift, then traversing to the Storm Peak area.
The ski area's gondola also shut down for about two hours Friday morning. Wirth said that planned closure was due to high winds reported by the National Weather Service, and no riders were stranded as a result.