Members from Heavenly’s Ski Patrol and Lift Maintenance teams zip line, rappel, and practice rescue techniques from the high flying Gondola to keep up with in-house certifications.
Heavenly Ski Patrol Director, Brian Gannon, gave us a rundown of the four-day Gondola Evacuation Training.
To be an Aerial Rescuer you must know many different types of rescue knots ahead of time, and on the first day of training rescuers practice techniques to descend into Gondola cabins from the cable, how to head out onto the cable and how to rappel, from the bottom Gondola terminal area.
Photo from Ski Patroller Andy Davis
The next step is to ascend the towers, flight the cable set-up, head out onto the cables, enter the Gondola cabins from the cable line (high above the ground), lower people waiting in the cabins to the ground, get back to the towers, and then descend. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Photo from Ski Patroller Hawk
Two cable sliding devices are used, the Imoos is for flat areas because it doesn’t have breaks and the Moot Cycle is for the steep sections of the cable line.
There are about 138 cabins on the Gondola line with a maximum of eight people per cabin. If there were to be an evacuation (“Highly unlikely, but anything is possible” says Gannon), Aerial Rescuers would first collect as much information as possible as to where people are and what type of people are on the Gondola (skiers/snowboarders, walk-ons, etc.)
The Incident Commander (leader of the evacuation) would decide where each team starts on the line. One team may start at the Mid-Station, while another may walk down a few towers from the Mid-Station, and another team may start at the bottom, etc.
Guests in-between towers 12 and 19 would be the only guests put on the zip line system, where they are about 8-10 feet off the ground and will slide to tower 12. In the summer, from tower 12 guests who are able to hike down, will hike in groups, and a truck will pick up the other guests. In the winter time, guests can ski down if they are able to, toboggans can bring others down, and depending on the snow levels, a grooming cat may be able to get in the area and bring guests down to the bottom.
Photo from Ski Patroller Hawk
The Gondola has 3-4 other hydrostatic back-up systems in place that they would use before there would be a full on Gondola Evacuation.
More info about Heavenly’s rescue teams:
Heavenly’s Aerial Rescue Team has around 30 members at one time which consist of Ski Patrol, California Lift Maintenance, Nevada Lift Maintenance, and Building Maintenance. Heavenly has been hosting Gondola Evacuation trainings since the Gondola started operation in the year 2000. Aerial Rescuers train twice a year, once in the spring, once in the fall.
Heavenly’s rescue teams participate in many other trainings throughout the year as well, including Ice Rescue in the winter on the East Peak lake. Heavenly partners with the International Co-operative Alliance and Tahoe-Douglas Fire for the Ice Rescue. During the training, four men are suited up, the person being rescued, two rescuers using rescue boards on the ice, and one rescuer on standby on the shore.
Other trainings include CPR, AED, snow safety, rescue companion, organized rescue, snow science, route training, rope rescue, 3-1 raising, lowering and pick-off systems, medical, complicated medical, toboggan handling in difficult areas, and more.
Gannon explains, “Heavenly really has top-notch training and rescue programs. Heavenly also has a unique situation for the Gondola Evacuation Training, because of the steep and rocky terrain the Gondola sits over, so the training is invaluable.”
Have a question for Ski Patrol Director, Brian Gannon? Leave it here in the comments!