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Crystal Mountain still closed, staff reeling from accident

Crystal Mountain ski resort experienced a devastating chairlift accident on Saturday, March 1. - Crystal Mountain Facebook Page
Crystal Mountain ski resort experienced a devastating chairlift accident on Saturday, March 1.
— image credit: Crystal Mountain Facebook Page

Crystal Mountain staff are still reeling from the fallout of a weekend accident that left four people injured, and operations indefinitely stalled.

Mike Morin, the ski hill's general manager, said the skiers who were injured Saturday when three chairs from the lift plummeted to the ground are starting to heal from their physical injuries, which ranged from bruising and broken ribs to a broken leg and dislocated shoulder.

But there are deeper repercussions surfacing.

"Once it sunk in and everything was settled, a lot of us really broke down," he said Monday, noting three of the injured were employees of the mountain, while one was a customer.

"I've been here 20 years and I have ridden this lift thousands of times with no doubts for the safety, but I'm surprised about how it effects me."

He's called in a counsellor to help the ski hill staff deal with the grief that's starting to show, and he's already had a couple visits with them himself.

"Everyone deals with this differently," he said, adding that he's had staff members call and say  they won't be going to work due to stress caused by the incident.

There is also anxiety in the local ski community, the core of the resort's business.

"I'd say 99.8 per cent of our business comes from the local area. And naturally, some people cancelled their lessons," he said. "On Facebook, a small percentage of people are worried, but the support I'm getting from the public is unreal. For every one person who badmouths Crystal Mountain, there are 10 people who are saying that their comment is out of context, and they're not reporting the whole story."

One of the concerns gaining traction is pulled straight from the BC Safety Authority website, which reports Crystal Mountain was issued an $8,000 fine in 2013 for failure to comply with a safety order relating to its passenger ropeways.

The penalty has nothing to do with what went wrong over the weekend, Morin said. That story has yet to be pieced together, and until it is, the mountain's licence is suspended.

What is clear is that the incident was the result of an oscillating empty chair on the Double Chairlift striking the second lift tower, which caused the cable to leave its track. Then the cable and three chairs fell to the ground.

What caused the chair to oscillate, and the ensuing reaction, is something the B.C. Safety Authority is investigating, said Morin.

"Right now, they've ruled out a whole bunch of stuff," he said. "But why was that rope swinging? They have to be sure of the cause… this lift has been in operation since 1977 and nothing has ever happened like this."

It's been a slow-going investigation, due to weather conditions and the level of detail that's required, he added.

Until the report is completed, regular Crystal Mountain skiers are on hold.

"I feel bad for my guests who were looking forward to the snow," he said. "As soon as I have confirmation from the safety authority, we will be back in operation."

Quinn Newcomb, of the B.C. Safety Authority, said it's unclear when the investigation will be over.

"We're just taking it step by step. Safety officers will be there until the job is done, and they have enough information," he said, adding that the current focus is getting the lift up and running, so they can do tests.

Meantime, he also has some words of consolation for skiers.

"Chairlifts in general are very, very safe," he said. "This type of incident is very rare. The majority of incidents we receive are related to user error … A mechanical or operational error is very rare."

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