New gondola evacuation system tested at Heavenly |

New gondola evacuation system tested at Heavenly

Traveling in a rescue basket, Joe Blanchard rides 30 feet off the ground from one gondola tower to another for a distance of 700 feet.

Blanchard, assistant ski patrol director for Heavenly Ski Resort, is neither injured nor stuck in an immobile gondola, but is testing his contraption should it ever be needed.

Blanchard created a new evacuation system for Heavenly’s 138-car gondola. Using a combination of mountain climbing and rescue gear, the system involves cable, ropes, pulleys, harnesses and a basket.

“The chances of having to use this system are quite slim,” said Monica Bandows, director of communications for Heavenly.

The device is the first of its kind and required between nine of the new gondola’s 32 towers. Areas of steep terrain could cause an evacuation problem if snowfall is not abundant enough to use skis or snowmobiles.

The gondola, which will operate year-round after opening in December, will take visitors from Park Avenue near Stateline to the base of the Tamarack Express Chair in about 11 minutes.

The gondola does have a backup power system, which in normal situations would eliminate the need for evacuation in the event of a power failure.

“Understand that this pulley system would only be used in extreme situations,” Bandows said.

An inspector from the Elevator, Ride and Tramway unit of the California Occupational Safety Health Administration required the system after noticing the type of terrain the gondola passes over. Steep and riddled with logs and rocks the landscape could make a foot descent more than some people could handle.

“The inspector wanted us to have something to go over this rugged terrain if someone was disabled,” Blanchard said.

The nine towers involved each have their own cable, which can be attached from one tower to another in about 10-15 minutes, said Mark McAllister, ski patrol director. The ride from tower to tower is about 5 minutes and requires the work of three patrollers for evacuations between the middle towers and two for evacuations involving an end tower.

The basket, which is about 7-feet long and 3-feet wide is equipped with safety belts and can hold up to 400 pounds.

The way the system works is each time a person is transported from one tower to another, the basket must be lowered and aligned on the next cable.

The pulley system, however, is only a small part of the $80,000 evacuation system, said Cathy Chavez, purchasing manager.

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