WHITEFISH, MT — It was supposed to be a day full of skiing and snowboarding at the Whitefish Mountain Resort, but a mechanical issue with one of the lifts left two families stranded on the side of a mountain for hours.
A video posted to YouTube by Emily Stark shows her sister, Megan, being rescued on December 29th, 2018.
A rope swings in front of the camera, and shows a crew working down below.
Janelle Stegen and her sister, Kayla, were also stuck once the lift stopped shortly after 12 p.m.
“Me and my family, we went up to the hill for the day and we did one run and then we got stuck on chair 5,” she said.
At first, Stegen said she and her sister didn’t think much of it.
“When the lift first stopped, that’s a normal thing to happen and so we just kind of figured someone had fallen or something like that,” she said.
Their mom was on solid ground, able to text them updates and eventually letting them know crews were out, evacuating the lift.
“We were up there, well, me and my sister ended up being up there for three hours and 15 minutes.”
According to Whitefish Mountain Resort, the East Rim/Chair 5 lift was stopped at 12:15 p.m. because of an issue with the chairlift’s bullwheel liner.
The decision to begin evacuating the chairlift came at 1:00 p.m.
Roughly 140 people needed to be brought down by rope.
“There’s a rope that’s attached to a harness and the person on the chairlift will put this harness on and it’s a really easy system,” said Riley Polumbus, public relations manager for the resort.
The last time a full chairlift evacuation happened at the resort was back in the 90’s, though it’s something the ski patrol is constantly practising.
“It’s what you call a low frequency but high risk type of training meaning that, you know, you practise it way more often than you’re ever going to use it,” she added.
The temperatures were below freezing and the wind was blowing hard.
Stegen said she bonded with her sister and tried hard not to focus on how cold she was.
“There was people above and below us and we’re all kind of making friends and just talking and a chair below us, a lady had a really nice voice and she was singing,” she said with a laugh.
Once on solid ground, skiers and snowboarders made their way down the mountain and were met with blankets, hand warmers and hot chocolate.
Stegen said she wasn’t about to hit another run.
“By the time we got off the lift, all the other lifts were about to close and so we didn’t really have time,” she said. “We were too cold anyways. We just wanted to go home.”
Stegen added she was back on the mountain the following day.
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