Phoenix recovers from opening day cut short by lift issue

Oil began dripping onto the T-bar’s brake, shutting the lift down about an hour into opening day

Eager skiers and snowboarders began lining up at the base of Phoenix Ski Area’s 51-year-old T-bar on Saturday at least 10 minutes before the machine began churning on Jan. 4, all in anticipation of cutting the first turns of the season through the snow on the Boundary ski hill.

Before Ian Mitchell and son Thomas were dragged up the hill on the first T-bar of the year, hill manager Kevin Rand and Phoenix staff did their final rounds, double checking pole padding and fencing. The sky was clear-blue as the sun began cresting over the summit of the mountain, but would fail to cast shadows on the runs before the smell of burning rubber began settling at the base of the hill. By 10:45 a.m., just over an hour after it began whirling, the T-bar was shut down due to an issue with the machine’s brake. Oil was dripping onto the brake, making it unsafe to operate.

“It trashed our brake system,” Rand said. “We couldn’t run it – it was not safe.”

The mechanical issue meant that the last full run of the day came before noon, but the problem only prompted eager skiers and boarders to slide over to the hill’s rope tow, begin hiking, sledding, or simply kick off their après-ski a bit earlier than projected. Meanwhile, Rand, who just began his first year in charge at Phoenix after working at Mount Baldy, did the rounds with those waiting for news at the base, explaining the issue.

“I gotta say,” Rand said Monday, “I’ve worked with a lot of ski hill over the years and this is the first ski hill, when the lift’s broken down, that I haven’t had 5,000 people come a whine and complain and yelling and me.”

Immediately after shutting down the lift Saturday, Rand resolved to rectify the problem.

“We’ll make it up to people,” Rand said after the T-bar closed. A mechanic was on his way, but no immediate fix was guaranteed. Instead, everyone who purchased a ticket on Saturday was refunded, or offered another day pass to use in the future.

“Those that got some runs in there – it’s great up there,” said one skier speaking with Rand at the base.

“I actually the told the board,” Rand said Monday, as snow was falling heavily on the hill, “‘You guys should be proud of the people we service here in the community. They’re just the most mellow, the most friendliest people and they just took it all in stride – it was awesome.”

Rand also said that he was considering opening the hill for an extra day or two during the week to offer more chances to ski, and to host other community events, hot dog roasts – “something along those lines, I’m not sure what yet.”

Though the lift was down for the rest of the day, Rand had it humming along again on Sunday for the hill’s first full day of the season.


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Ski helmets prove effective when sledding too. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Some eager skiers and snowboarders decided they weren’t done even though the T-bar quit for the day, so proceeded to hike the mountain. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

A young skier practices the pizza before jumping onto the slopes. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Kent Thiessen joins his daughter on the rope tow after the T-bar closed on Saturday at Phoenix Ski Area. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Staff inspect the T-bar to find a problem with the machine’s brake. The issue would close the lift for the rest of the day. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

A problem with the T-bar meant that some skiers and snowboarders had to pack it in early on opening day. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

The lower hill area proved a good place to learn the ropes. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Joanne Gidney carves a new line. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Martin Gidney finds some fresh snow on the hill. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Hands up if you’re excited for ski season! (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

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