A gondola at Whistler resort that collapsed, injuring a dozen people, went down because water seeped in and then expanded when it froze, ripping the structure apart says a report by the British Columbia Safety Authority. The authority has issued a safety order for all ski hill towers in the province to be fitted with drain holes by November to prevent any similar incidents.
Six gondola cars were damaged when they fell from the Excalibur line at Whistler Blackcomb in December 2008. Forty-three passengers were riding the lift at the time and surprisingly, most walked away with bumps and bruises. One person did suffer a fractured vertebra.
A number of lawsuits were filed against Whistler Blackcomb following the crash, but the safety authority’s report avoided the issue of liability.
At the time of the collapse, the Excalibur gondola had been in service for 14 years with no serious incidents reported. Dozens of passengers were stranded for hours after the collapse on Blackcomb Mountain, which neighbors Whistler Mountain, the home of alpine events at the 2010 Winter Games. One gondola car hung over a creek as resort and emergency officials worked to stabilize the tower before they could attempt an evacuation. See Collapse of Gondola Tower at Whistler.
The safety authority’s report cited a faulty design which was supposed to prevent water from seeping in, it is suspected that the water entered through a plate connecting the tower’s upper and lower sections. The water then froze and the ice expanded inside the cavity, pushing against the walls and the plate, compromising the structural integrity of the tower and triggering the collapse.
The authority, which oversees the province’s gondolas, ski lifts, trams and other ropeways, makes six recommendations in its report. The primary order is for all B.C. ski areas to ensure that towers have drain holes by November 1. Whistler Blackcomb has already put drain holes in its several hundred towers.
The report said although tests for water accumulation were conducted during periodic inspections of the tower, resort staff didn’t detect any because the test method is dependent on the tester’s knowledge of the tower construction. It recommends that manufacturers clearly communicate how to undertake an effective inspection, and called on passenger ropeway contractors to ensure safety bulletins are followed correctly. The safety authority also recommends improving its own communication process.