Opening Day Gets Closer!

With less than a week to go before Lake Louise opens for the 2010-11 season, all hands are on deck preparing for the big day and the winter to come. Mountain roads are closing down as snow accumulates, and winter clothes are becoming more apparent as temperatures dip and the ground gets covered in snow.

This past week saw the first gathering of this year’s edition of the Ski Patrol, as their week of pre-season training kicked off last Monday. They’ve just completed five days of lift evacuation training, with another thirty members of the volunteer patrol joining them for the weekend. Staff from most other departments are also arriving, and daily orientation sessions are getting another crop of winter staff excited for the season.

With the installation of the Grizzly Gondola a few years ago, lift evacuation training for ski patrol has grown from two days of chairlift practice over the weekend to five days, with the three extra days focusing exclusively on the gondola. This is due to the fact that evacuation of the gondola is much more involved than that of a chair lift. There’s a long list of required equipment, along with the knowledge and confidence to use it. Patrollers are also working at height much more so than for a chair evacuation, so confidence and comfort with the equipment is crucial.

Most of a chairlift evacuation happens from the ground. For a gondola, on the other hand, patrollers must ascend each tower and ride a single-wheel “roll cab” down to each cabin. For the uppermost cabin in a span (space between two towers), the rescuer is belayed from the top of the tower. For the remaining cabins in the same span, the belay happens from the ground. The belayer(s) stands below the cabin the rescuer is currently on, and the belay rope goes up to and around the stem of the cabin (long arm attaching cabin to haul line), allowing the rescuer to continue downhill to the next cabin. The process is repeated for each span.

Upon arrival at the cabin, the patroller unlocks the doors, then descends and enters the cabin itself. Using the cabin stem as an anchor point, the patroller lowers the cabin occupants one by one to the ground using an additional set of ropes and friction belay devices. Once the cabin is empty, all gear is collected and the patroller prepares to move down to the next one.

Patroller on the roof of a gondola cabin.

In addition to being familiar with this process, patrollers must also know how to “self-evac”. Since a gondola evacuation requires all hands on deck, a patroller is useless if they’re stuck on the lift being evacuated. So, every time they ride the lift, they pick up a self-evac bag at the base of the lift and bring it along for the ride. Inside the bag is a special key that enables the patroller to unlock the cabin doors from inside. (If you’ve ever wondered why patrollers don’t ride in the same cabin as other passengers, it’s because if they need to get out, the doors can’t be closed from the outside without going up onto the roof of the cabin, and we cannot leave passengers in a cabin with the doors hanging open). To reduce the impact this policy may have on a line-up of people waiting to ride the lift, patrollers always make a call before loading to see if there are other patrollers who can join them for the ride. One evac bag can be used for one or more patrollers, so there’s never a danger of all bags being on the lift at the same time, and therefore unavailable to others.

With training coming to close, thoughts are turning towards preparing the mountain for opening day. Avalanche control teams are getting their first glimpses of the snow that has already fallen on the upper mountain, and bundles of bamboo and signs, and coils of orange rope are making their way up the mountain so everything that needs to be marked can be marked. Temperatures have warmed a bit this week, but snowmakers are still making use of every minute of freezing temperatures so we can have as much snow on the ground as possible for opening day.

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One Comment on “Opening Day Gets Closer!”

  1. QK says:

    VERY EXCITED!


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