SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A gust of wind blew Kirkwood Mountain Resort's airbag free of its anchors Saturday afternoon and sent it sailing into the Cornice Express chairlift, derailing it.
The incident happened about 1:35 p.m. No injuries were reported, but ski patrol used rappelling equipment and harnesses to lower dozens of stranded skiers and snowboarders from the disabled lift. Everyone appeared to be off the lift by 3:15 p.m.
Cornice Express, also known as Chair 6, sustained some damage during the incident. It was closed following the collision with the airbag and it is unknown if the lift with operate Sunday, said resort spokesman Michael Dalzell.
The airbag traveled underneath Chair 5, but did not make contact with the lift according to eyewitness statements. One lift operator described the airbag's movement as a hovering motion.
“It was crazy,” said Laney Ziv, who was eating lunch at the resort's village when the airbag took flight. “It was one big gust of wind and it went under Chair 5 and knocked Chair 6 off.”
“It was this big blue blob that was flying across the mountain and it was very scary, especially when you see people on the lift,” Ziv added.
Kirkwood pass holder and Sacramento resident David Sanchez was about midway up the length of Chair 6 when the lift stopped. He said he did not feel an impact, but knew something was up after about 15 minutes.
“To me it felt like it just stopped,” Sanchez said. “Like the power was out.” He said the subsequent rescue was a little nerve-racking, but at least he has a story to tell.
“It's all good, we're back on the ground,” Sanchez said. “We're all safe.”
The airbag knocked the chairlift's haul rope off a single set of wheels at the base of the lift. A woman and a small child near where the airbag hit the lift were clearly shaken by the collision and rescue.
The stoppage of the lift delayed Saturday's Subaru Freeskiing World Tour stop at Kirkwood for about an hour because ski patrol providing coverage at the event were needed to assist skiers and riders off of Chair 6.
The airbag is new this year at Kirkwood. The inflatable bag allows skiers and snowboarders to attempt tricks with the promise of a soft landing.