Behind the scenes of lift evacuation


A skier is lowered from the Sundance chairlift. | Photo Emily Perrins

Straps tight and snug? Check. Instructors alongside? Check. Ready to be pushed off the chairlift?

This reporter got a first-hand taste at being an adaptive skier in a lift evacuation exercise set up by Adaptive Sports at Sun Peaks (ASSP) and Sun Peaks Ski Patrol ahead of opening day. It was a prospect that had me both curious and mildly apprehensive; how was I to be evacuated from a chairlift while strapped into a large bucket seat?

It’s a scenario these teams have practised together before. This session helped introduce staff to different pieces of equipment that ASSP uses, and revise the techniques needed to evacuate any adaptive skier or snowboarder from the chairlift should a lift evacuation take place.

It turns out the process of evacuating sit skiers is rather straightforward.

Specific straps pre-attached to the sit ski are connected together to create a central haul point that is hooked onto a rope hoisted up from the ground.

Sun Peaks Resort LLP is an industry leader in making these straps mandatory on all sit skis at the resort, said ASSP president Neil Connors. This is to avoid the sit skier having to face the risks of coming out of their sit ski to be evacuated. Usually skiers have a Poma lift-type seat hoisted up to them that they have to straddle.

All types of evacuees are then belayed to the ground using an attached rope. But not before a “leap of faith,” as Connors called it, is required to scooch (or in my case, be pushed) off the edge of the chair to be suspended by the belay rope. This is the hardest part of the exercise.

Patrollers get on belay to lift a sit skier off the chair and lower them down.
| Photo Emily Perrins

For a lot of ASSP participants, most of whom are not in sit skis but have cognitive impairments or are visually impaired, this can require a “much bigger leap of faith” than for the average chairlift user, Connors said.

The evacuation procedure is safe and well-rehearsed, and ASSP instructors will always be beside students on the chair to assist and communicate. But it certainly inspired new appreciation of how courageous ASSP participants often need to be in their pursuit of skiing.

We can only hope these lift evacuation exercises need not be utilized in a real emergency, but with efforts like this, ASSP and patrol are in the best position to co-ordinate the safe evacuation of all should the situation arise.




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