Monday, May 21, 2018
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Rescuers lower more than 80 skiers trapped on stalled chairlift

CHESTERLAND, Ohio — A chairlift stalled Saturday at a northeast Ohio ski resort, leaving more than 80 people stuck for several hours until emergency crews used ropes and a pulley to lower them to safety, authorities said. No injuries were reported.

The ski lift at Alpine Valley in Munson Township malfunctioned at about 2:30 p.m., leaving the skiers and snowboarders dangling at least 30 feet from the ground, said Chief Scott Hildenbrand of the Hambden Fire Department, one of the agencies that responded.

Crews threw blankets and hand warmers to the skiers so they would stay warm until they were rescued, which Hildenbrand said took about three hours. Medics checked the skiers after they were on the ground; none needed to go to the hospital, Hildenbrand said.

“If this is the worst that happens, I'll take this,” said Rich Gent, a skier who was among the 85 or so people stranded on the lift. “We weren't stuck in an avalanche or anything crazy like that.”

A manager for Alpine Valley, an 125-acre resort east of Cleveland, said Saturday night that resort officials were still trying to pinpoint the cause of the malfunction.

“It appears it was something in the gear box, but we were more concerned about getting people off the chair before we look at it,” area manager George Shaffer said.

He said there was no danger of skiers or snowboarders falling or the lift derailing, as one did at a ski resort in Maine last month.

Alpine Valley remains open and plans are in the works to make the necessary repairs to get the crippled lift back into action, he said. The resort's other six lifts were unaffected, he said.

Gent, 36, of Pepper Pike, a Cleveland suburb, said he was riding the chairlift that malfunctioned with his 5 year-old son when it stopped. He said he initially assumed another skier was having trouble getting on the lift but saw workers on the scene within minutes.

Less than 10 minutes later, resort officials announced over the loudspeaker that the skiers would have to be evacuated manually, Gent said. The skiers remained calm as rescue workers lowered them one by one, he said.

Gent, who has been skiing since he was 6 or 7, said he had never before been plucked from a ski lift, but the incident wouldn't keep him from returning to the slopes.

The rescue effort came less than three weeks after the derailment of a ski lift in Maine about 120 miles north of Portland. Eight people were injured Dec. 28 when five chairs fell as far as 30 feet amid high winds, with gusts of 40 to 50 mph, at the Sugarloaf resort.

Winds in northeast Ohio, where temperatures were in the 30s on Saturday afternoon, were gusting up to 25 mph or more, which is fairly common for the region, said Brian Mitchell, a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service.

“I was happy that it was as warm as it was,” said Gent, the skier. “But any time you sit for two hours outside in the wind, it's going to get to you.”

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