Ice to blame for gondola accident

19th December 2008, by Chris Gill

A gondola accident at Whistler this week has been blamed on a rare build up of ice in the tower.

In a press release issued by the resort, officials at Whistler Blackcomb have said ice and water damage most likely caused the sudden rupture of a supporting tower on the Excalibur gondola.

What seems to have happened is a rare occurrence known as “ice-jacking”, where water seeped into the lower part of the tower and turned to ice. Lowering temperatures caused the ice to expand further and exert pressure on the two sections of tower, eventually causing the two sections of tower to split - a sudden, rather than accumulative failure. Structural engineers are now trying to determine how water got into the tower, when it is supposed to be fully sealed. According to the reports, a lift in an Idaho ski area suffered a similar fate two years ago.

Whistler’s accident on Tuesday 16 December caused two gondola cabins to crash, left another dangling mid-air and stranded over 50 passengers. No one was seriously injured, but the situation could have been far worse. And it is a blow for the resort, coming just days after the launch of its newest Peak 2 Peak lift.

The British Colombia Safety Authority has now ordered ski resorts to inspect their lifts for similar signs of water damage.

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