Summit County residents could find themselves dangling in midair from a rope beneath a gondola at Breckenridge Ski Resort next week.
The ski patrol is looking for 150 volunteers to participate in its annual gondola evacuation training on Saturday, Sept. 28. The exercise is being held as a way to educate the public on the ski patrol’s safety response techniques in the event an evacuation is needed — and to provide additional training to ski area workers.
“We have designated patrols that are certified in gondola evacuation in the rare event we ever need it,” said Alysa Hetsa, spokeswoman for Breckenridge. “This is a great way for them to apply the skills they are trained in by going through a real-life scenario.”
In order to make the training exercise realistic, the resort is asking community members to volunteer to be “rescued” from the gondolas.
It took a little convincing to the higher-ups to OK the exercise, gondola evacuation team leader Duke Barlow said. However, over the four years the volunteer event has been held it’s proven to provide invaluable experience to the team.
“Ski patrol does the training with each other, but it’s great to have the volunteers because they aren’t familiar with our rescue and lowering systems,” he said. “It’s great because it makes us really check our work, and we really have to earn that trust from the volunteer because in a normal situation people may be hesitant to be lowered from the gondola. Hopefully, it’s also a fun and educational experience for the volunteer.”
Participants will meet at the base of the gondola at 9 a.m. where they will be briefed by the ski patrol about what to expect during the exercise. Then, they will climb into the gondolas.
Instead of arriving at the mountain base, the gondola will stop, and volunteers will literally be left hanging.
“You will be hanging out there for a moment and waiting for the patrollers to come through and rescue you from it,” Hetsa said.
Meanwhile, patrollers will spring into action. A coordinator with an evacuation manual will oversee the project, Duke said. The coordinator will assign members of the ski patrol’s evacuation team to carry out rescue operations at different sections of the gondola.
“It’s almost like having a bunch of spidermen coming to collect you,” Hetsa said.
Ski patrollers will use a tool to pry open the gondola to reach occupants, and secure them into harnesses.
“We use ropes and lower them to someone on the ground,” Barlow said. “Once they are on the ground we will take the easiest road and get them where they need to go.”
Hetsa took part in the exercise last year.
“I had no idea what I was really signing up for last year,” she said. Despite that, she said she felt safe being led by the certified team of patrollers exiting the gondola in the unconventional manner. “They talk to you and make sure you feel OK and let you know exactly what was happening.”
The exercise is just one way the resort keeps up on safety techniques throughout the year.
“We operate every day throughout the entire winter, and making sure our staff is prepared on all levels helps us become a well-oiled machine,” Hetsa said.
The evacuation exercise is expected to conclude around noon. Ski patrol will hold an optional open discussion to get feedback from volunteers. A barbecue lunch will also follow the training.
To participate, contact Duke Barlow, email@example.com or (970) 453-5000 by Thursday, Sept. 26.