Kirkwood employee recounts powerless weekend | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Kirkwood employee recounts powerless weekend

Scott Neuffer
Tahoe Daily Tribune

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GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – Despite a fire-caused power outage over the holiday weekend, patrons of Kirkwood Mountain Resort were treated to some rather nice New Year’s fare, Kirkwood snow cat driver and Golden Nugget Automotive owner Mike Schiller said Tuesday.

“They (Kirkwood) did everything they could to make every single person happy,” said Schiller, who took numerous photos of the ordeal.

He said those efforts included free breakfast in the main lodging area, free hamburgers all afternoon and for dinner prime rib without the usual price tag.

“It was so good, and exactly what I needed after two days without sleep,” Schiller said of the latter dish.

Kirkwood’s generator caught fire around 2 p.m. New Year’s Day when a filter overheated and ignited. Workers in the building smelled smoke 30-40 minutes before the fire reached its height and were able to evacuate safely. About 150 workers were evacuated from nearby employee housing. No one was injured in the fire, but the blaze consumed the building where the generator was housed.

“It was the only power supply for the mountain,” Schiller explained.

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Later, while grooming the ski runs in the dark, Schiller said he saw the fire below slowly extinguished.

“The fire was pretty much knocked down by 7 p.m., but there were occasional flare-ups,” he said.

When his shift ended at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Schiller said he volunteered to help out.

“They asked for volunteers,” he said. “We went pulling wire and what not, trying to get power on the grid.”

Although replacement generators arrived early Saturday, crews weren’t able to restore power until later that afternoon, Schiller said.

“I was scheduled to work, but there was no point going up on the mountain because it was already groomed the night before; so I volunteered,” he said.

By Sunday morning, two chair-lifts were up and running, Schiller said, and the entire mountain was operational by Sunday afternoon.

“They got three brand new Caterpillar generators on a 40-foot semi-trailer powering the mountain,” he said. “They have plenty of power.”

Although Saturday was a setback for the resort, Schiller said the people who stayed enjoyed themselves, especially the free food.

“A lot of people were walking up the mountain and skiing down anyway,” he said.

Kirkwood Senior Vice President Tim Cohee said there at least 350 people stayed at the resort on Saturday despite lifts being closed.

“People went snow cat skiing, tubing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing,” Cohee reported on Tuesday.

He said when it came to heat, old-fashioned fireplaces and propane heaters provided warmth for many condo occupants, and that other locations without such features fared surprisingly well. He said on Friday night, he stayed in the resort’s Mountain Club Villages without heat.

“The place holds heat – it’s like a furnace,” he said. “It was actually very comfortable.”

Cohee said portable generators will power the resort the rest of the season. He said Kirkwood’s power house will be rebuilt this summer.

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