The Chair Lift

This is the town of Banff, Alberta, Canada, nestled in the Bow River Valley, deep within the Canadian Rockies. The photo was taken from Mt. Norquay and shows Mount Rundle towering over the town.

I was posted here in the mid 50’s as a young RCMP constable. The town had a winter population of about 3,000 which grew in the summer to ten times that amount. It was designated a Red Serge detachment so the full red dress uniform was worn while on duty.  Dam the tourists!

Banff was discovered by Canadian Pacific Railway surveyors and became Canadas first and most famous National Park. Banff sits 4,537 feet above sea level. Mt Rundle sits at 9,673.

A call came into the Detachment that a woman had been injured on the Mt. Norquay Ski Lift, which is used in the summer to take tourist to the top of Mt. Norquay for a great view of the valley. The accident had occurred near the chalet where the lift starts, about half way up the mountain. The injured woman had already been taken to the hospital in Banff when her injuries were reported.

The company that operates the lift and ski slopes was in the process of building a new ski jump for the upcoming winter.  Large trucks were hauling rock and dirt fill to the new site which required that they pass under the Chair lift cable.

This view was taken from the mountain, looking north, and the two cables in the photo can be traced downwards to where they begin at the chalet in the center of the shot. The truck was traveling from right to left on the road that passed under the chairlift cables.

After dumping it’s load the truck headed west but the driver failed to disengage the dump box gear. As a result, the box of the truck started to slowly rise again until it was fully raised.  The front of the box had an angle iron frame that normally supported a spare tire but at the time of the accident it was empty and stuck up above the box, similar to football goal posts.

The woman in the chairlift met with the truck as it passed under her.  The chairlift was designed with an arm rest that swung in front of the rider once they sat down.  At the same time the arm was also connected to a foot rest that swung into position and gave the rider a place for her feet.

Both the truck and the chairlift moved in a slow steady fashion. The angle Iron on the front of the truck box was at its greatest high as it met the chairlift.  The angle iron pushed the woman’s feet to the side and hooked over the foot rest.

The first indication the truck driver had of a problem was when the front wheels of the truck slowly raised off the ground. As the cable took on the weight of the truck, the truck started to move left up the steep mountainside. At the same time the woman and the chair were pulled down by the weight of the truck.

The lift cable was attached to a huge counter weight that sat in the cable lift operations building. It was hinged on the two front corners that faced the mountain.  It was designed to keep the cable tight as passengers got on or off the lift. Later it was discovered that the lift was so designed it could have pulled the truck up the side of the mountain with little trouble.

It was at this point the foot rest snapped off and caused the truck to fall back to the ground. The sudden release of the weight of the truck caused the counter weight to fall back and suddenly take up the slack on the cable. This caused the woman and the chair to be launched upwards as if from a sling shot. The rider flew out of the chair high overhead but on an angle towards the mountain.  As a result the distance to the ground was less than if she had fallen down on the ground by the truck.

The truck had no damage and the chairlift only required a new chair. Fortunately, while the woman was badly injured, she had no memory of being launched skywards, nor the crash to the ground.

Afterwards, all truck traffic was forbidden to drive under the chairlift cable.

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