Ski patrol evacuates 21 off chairlift

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The lift malfunctioned after sustaining an electrical problem Jan. 1

By John Severance

Twenty-one skiers and snowboarders had to be rescued after the beginner chairlift malfunctioned Jan. 1 at Pajarito Mountain in Los Alamos.
“We were waiting in line when the lift stopped. We waited for a while and we walked to the top and took a photo,” said Barbara Wendelberger, who was ski boarding that day.
Wendelberger said she is a regular at Pajarito Mountain.
“I have seen the lift stop but then move again,” she said. “I have never seen them rescue people.”
Pajarito Mountain general manager Tom Long said there was an electrical problem with the chairlift and the decision was made to evacuate the passengers off the lift because it was uncertain how long it would take to make the repairs.
 “The evacuation was conducted by our ski patrol members flawlessly,” Long said. “The electrical problem was solved and the lift was placed back in service later in the afternoon.”
Bill Somers, the director of the Pajarito Ski Patrol, said he and his staff practice and train all summer to maintain their lift evacuation skills.
 “Off-loading passengers using the auxiliary power is preferred but we were unable to do that this time because of the nature of the problem. Tom notified the patrol of the need to evacuate the lift and we gathered resources and proceeded with the evacuation. The main concern during the evacuation was the temperature at the time. We wanted to get the people off as quickly and safely as possible because it was so cold,” Somers said.
Temperatures at the time probably were around 5 to 10 degrees.
Somers then explained how the ski patrol does an evacuation.
“In order to evacuate a passenger from the lift, a patroller shoots a lead line over the haul rope and pulls up our evacuation rope which is attached to a T-seat. The patroller gets on belay and instructs the passenger on how to use the T-seat.
“When the patroller and passenger are ready, the patroller instructs the passenger to scoot off the chair seat and we lower them to the ground. An assistant on the ground helps the passenger by getting his/her skis across the slope and get them out of the gear.”
Somers said the evacuation took less than an hour.
Los Alamos Ski Club president Brian Foley said,  “I was not present on Saturday. I understand that our beginner chair broke down for a while on Saturday and whenever this happens, the ski patrol has to decide whether it is safer and more comfortable to get people off the lift, or leave them up there until the lift is repaired.
“It is not allowed to run the lift in reverse, using gravity, to get people off a chairlift. There is too much risk of brake failure, so lifts have a lock to prevent backwards rotation.”
According to its Web site, Pajarito Mountain has 40 trails on 300 acres with a vertical of 1,200 feet. There are five chairlifts and one surface lift. The mountain is open Friday, Saturday and Sundays and federal holidays.