Boyce Park ski lift's glitches blamed on poor slope design

| Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

Poor slope design, not faulty engineering, likely caused recent problems with the Boyce Park ski lift, said the CEO of the company that helps maintain the lift.

"We believe the issue is the unload ramp itself," Mark Bee of Doppelmayr CTEC said Thursday. The Salt Lake City company purchased the assets of the lift's manufacturer, Hall Ski Lift, in 1985. "When chairs come, we want the snow to have a break. There, it tapers off and gives skiers problems."

State regulators yesterday gave county officials the go-ahead to begin operating the park's ski lift after two separate but similar mechanical failures occurred in a four-day span.

Bee said an unload ramp at the top of the lift that wasn't as steep as it should have been led skiers to pull on their chairs in an attempt to get back on. That caused a cable that attaches to the lift to disconnect from a pulley.

On Saturday, a skier getting off the lift about 4 p.m. pulled the chair, causing a malfunction and stranding about 100 people on the lift for about 90 minutes. The ski patrol lowered them to the ground with ropes.

The lift reopened Wednesday morning, but the problem occurred again about 6 p.m., this time stranding 40 people for about an hour. No injuries were reported in either incident.

"We obviously missed something the first time around, and that's regrettable," said Phil LaMay, the county's deputy director for Public Works. "It's something we strive not to do, especially when the public's safety is at stake."

LaMay said the offload ramp was among items addressed before the ski season began.

"Doppelmayr instructed us that before we get inspected by the state we have that rebuilt, and they gave our staff instructions on what needed to be done," LaMay said. "We did rebuild and replace the ramp before the inspection in October."

LaMay said he didn't think Doppelmayr gave specific instructions.

"The instructions were verbal," he said. "Obviously, when you're putting in a ramp when there's no snow on the ground, (the chair) is pretty high up off the ground. You construct it keeping in mind that everything's going to be covered with snow.

"When we make the snow and groom the snow and put the snow at the offload area, we do it based on the groomer's own background and knowledge of doing this for years. They don't go out and measure the distance from the bottom of the chair to the top of the snow."

Bee said lift operators should know how to maintain ramps.

The ski lift was almost entirely reconstructed as part of a $1 million renovation that closed the ski area in December 2006. It reopened for the 2007-08 season, but closed after 2008-09 because the lift was stopping intermittently. Last year, the lift didn't open until mid-February because of a record-keeping problem.

The lift passed inspection before this year's season and again after crews made repairs following Saturday's malfunction. State inspectors gave the OK to reopen last night.

Frequent users of the park remained skeptical the problems are over.

"I don't trust that ski lift with my life," said Jake Conner, 18, of Rimersburg, Clarion County, an avid snowboarder who works at Peak Ski Center near the park. "I think I'll wait until next week for them to get it all cleared."

LaMay said people should feel safe.

"If I'm willing to say this is safe and the state is willing to give the green light yet again, I would be willing to go up there with my kids and take them at their word," he said.

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