First account by Megan Paulson

It was around 1pm when I loaded the Triple chair.  Jim L., an older gentleman, longtime Big Sky resident and resort patron, was beside me.  Although we didn’t know each other prior to the chair ride, we both chatted with excitement to be heading to the Tram for some afternoon runs.

We just had cleared Tower 2.  With an intense gust of wind, a vortex of snow swept down from the right, encompassing the entire lift.  Everything came to a screeching halt.  Chairs swung wildly as the cable absorbed weight from the sudden stop.

Looking up the mountain, each chair appeared to be full with its 3-person max. Arms flew up in the air – people grabbing for anything they could to hold on.  Two chairs in front of us, a group of 6 kids screamed in surprise.

Jim and I looked at each other – “Wow, that was quite some wind…  And not a normal stop!”

After a few minutes, we heard the dull roar of snowmobiles.  That’s probably not a good sign, we mused.

Big Sky Ski Patrol responded quickly to the scene.  As towers were checked and evaluated by Patrol and the Lift Maintenance team, it appeared everyone was safe.  The wind continued to howl.  As a ski patrol came under our chair, we heard him mention Tower 4 derailed, and there had to be a lift evacuation.

“I’ve ridden this lift hundreds of times, but this is definitely a first,” said Jim.  I agreed, Lone Peak has a lot of wind, but it’s not often something like this happens.

As we watched the events unfold, preparation of the lift evac appeared like a search and rescue mission – debriefing a team of 20+, ropes, bags, safety gear, snowmobiles and logistics all being discussed.

Evacuation started at the top of the mountain, so we had a while to wait until they reached our location towards the bottom.  Jim and I shared stories of life, travel, skiing, work and news.

Luckily, the sun was shining over Lone Peak and cast warmth on our chair.  We watched in awe at the wind and snow ripping over the rocks, chutes and landscape.

“You know, not many people can say they’ve had the pleasure to enjoy a view like this,” said Jim.  “We’re pretty lucky.”

Once again, I agreed.  Although a slight inconvenience, I really didn’t mind being stuck on the chair at that moment.  Time stood still for a while, something quite rare these days.  We were at the mercy of the rescue team.  I was happy to have Jim with me on the lift.

As patrol finally reached our chair, they rattled off instructions to hoist ourselves down on the rescue chair.  After watching everyone else, by now Jim and I were pros.  We made our way through the air, down the rescue line and onto the ground.

“Maybe we’ll cross paths another day,” said Jim as we skied off in opposite directions.

“Hopefully while we’re skiing laps on the tram next time instead of sitting on the lift,” I joked.

A special thank you to the Big Sky Ski Patrol and staff who helped everyone to safety in the lift evacuation 2/12/11.