A 25-year-old woman from outside Canada spent the night stuck inside a gondola cabin partway up Blackcomb Mountain last week, after a lift operator mistakenly loaded her on the Excalibur Gondola right before it was shut down for the night.
The woman, who speaks English as a second language, thought she was downloading from Base II, or mid-station, on Blackcomb to Whistler Village between 5:30 and 6 p.m. last Tuesday (March 1), said Doug Forseth, Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) senior VP of operations.
But she loaded the Excalibur heading up to the top of Blackcomb and got stuck overnight when the lift stopped operating.
She spent more than 12 hours inside the gondola cabin overnight, emerging at the top of the Excalibur line the next morning at about 7:15 a.m. after the lift started running again. WB staff members worked to warm her up and piece together what happened, Forseth said.
"She's young, she's healthy - she got through this unharmed. That's the good news," he said.
The incident comes down to a mistake by the lift host who shouldn't have uploaded the woman from mid-station at that time of day, and who then "forgot" that she was on the gondola, Forseth said. Only one staff member is responsible for the mistake and disciplinary measures have been taken.
"There was a mistake made just pure and simple human error," Forseth said.
"What the lift host was thinking, I don't know."
It's "fortunate" in this case that the mistake didn't have more serious consequences, he added.
The woman didn't have a cell phone, so she couldn't call for help. There also wouldn't have been groomers or other staff members in that area of the mountain overnight, Forseth said. He said he doesn't know if the woman had been skiing or snowboarding that day, but she was not dressed in ski clothes on the gondola, he added.
The temperature was about -2 C when she loaded the Excalibur and got as cold as about -9 C overnight, Forseth said.
He pointed out that millions of people visit Whistler and Blackcomb mountains each year, and the last time such an incident occurred was 10 or 15 years ago.
"It's a very rare occurrence," he said.
WB staff are trained in protocols for shutting lifts down at the end of the ski day and specific procedures are in place to ensure that nobody remains on the various lifts. As a result of the incident, WB officials are looking at other possible "barriers" to ensure nobody uploads on the Excalibur when the upper half of the line is being shut down for the night. The lower portion of the lift, which runs from Base II to the Village, runs until 8 p.m. daily for access to the Tube Park, staff housing and the Village.
Forseth said WB has remained in touch with the woman and he believes the situation has been "resolved" to her satisfaction.