GRAND COUNTY " A mechanical failure on the Pioneer Express chairlift stranded skiers and riders for three hours Sunday afternoon in blizzard-like conditions.
Winds were estimated at 50 to 60 miles per hour, causing a chair on the Pioneer lift to swing and jam into the top terminal.
Two guests, a woman and a man, fell out of the chair. It was a short distance from the chair to the top ramp and they were not injured. The jam caused mechanical failure of the lift, and Winter Park ski patrollers performed a lift evacuation for all 115 passengers that were stranded in the strong wind.
No one was injured, said Geoff Anders, director of Winter Park Ski Patrol, and there were only one or two cases of mild frostbite.
"The ambient air temperature was relatively warm, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been," Anders said, who came in on his day off to assist the evacuation. "Winds were steadily blowing in the high 30s, but I think gusts were over 50, maybe 60."
It was all hands on deck Sunday afternoon as ski patrollers and supervisors took part in the two-hour rescue.
The first call indicating something was wrong at the Pioneer chairlift came in at about 12:50 p.m., Anders said.
At that point, ski patrollers began preparation for an evacuation, strapping on harnesses, gathering equipment and making phone calls. All upper-mountain chairlifts were shut down about 1 p.m. due to the high winds, and patrollers anxiously awaited the next call.
It came about an hour later.
"It took a while for a joint decision to be made," Anders said. Lift mechanics were working diligently to remedy the situation but after about an hour, they realized the problem wasn't fixable, he said.
Twelve evacuation teams helped belay guests from the Pioneer lift with suspended ropes and rescue chairs. The longest people were stranded was three hours, but there were no children or people with disabilities on the lift, Anders said.
People sitting in chairs with the highest wind exposure were evacuated first.
Depending on their location or ability, people either skied to the base or received a snowmobile or toboggan ride to the nearest warming hut. They eventually met up with family and friends at the upper Balcony house, where they received food and hot beverages and were well-compensated, said Communications Coordinator Jenn deBerge .
So, what should people do when they're stranded on a chairlift?
"Stay calm. Huddle together to stay warm and pay strict attention to our instructions, and follow them," Anders said. "And absolutely do not jump."
The Pioneer Express chairlift was repaired Monday, and crews were waiting for an inspection yesterday afternoon.
The last lift evacuation at Winter Park Resort took place in 1990 on the Sunnyside Chairlift at the Mary Jane, because of mechanical issues.