Massive Avalanche Breaks Lift Tower & Nearly Kills 2 People in New Zealand Today

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A resort worker in front of the damaged lift tower. Credit: Facebook

A large avalanche came down and broke a lift tower on the High Noon Express at Mt. Ruhapehu in New Zealand today.

2 employees were caught in the avalanche, described as “big enough to destroy a small town”, while they were setting up for the day at a ski-lift shack before the Tūroa field opened. The huge slide carried away a large snow plough, damaged a ski-lift tower and shut down Mt Ruapehu’s upper skifields.

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The avalanche happened about 8.30 on Monday morning.

The pair, aged in their 20s, were outside watching as the avalanche control team set off preventative detonations on the upper slopes. One of the men had just parked a snow-cat grooming machine, a witness who wished to remain anonymous said.

“They were all on radio, so they all knew [the blasting] was going on, but they weren’t expecting it to go as big as it went. They got radio calls and ran into the safe zone in the [ski-lift return] building. The avalanche came down and took the cat.”

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A webcam image from the top of the High Noon ski lift, after a large avalanche at Tūroa skifield on Monday.

The avalanche had left a 2,300-foot debris field and carried the cat about 650-feet down a ski run called Vertigo, no doubt writing it off. It started above the top High Noon chairlift about 8.30am before the Tūroa skifield opened, and the upper slopes of both the Tūroa and Whakapapa sides of the mountain have been closed for Monday.

“It was about size four, which means it is enough to destroy a train or a small town. It’s about 10,000 tonnes in snow,” said Loik Lassueur​, the Mountain Safety Council’s alpine adviser. “[It] was bigger than expected. In terms of New Zealand scale, that’s very big. We rarely get stuff that big.”

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Snow falls down the upper slopes of Tūroa.

The force of the snow bent the tower, putting the lift out of action. The tower will now need to be taken down and disassembled to fully assess damage. If the haul rope was damaged, it could take some time to source a replacement, he said.

It is not the first time the ski-lift tower has been damaged, severe ice causing a similar situation before. 

“HIGH NOON UPDATE (RAL CE ROSS COPLAND): This morning at Turoa an avalanche struck the top of the High Noon Express chairlift. I am on site now with our engineers and can confirm Tower 15 will need to be replaced. We are working to inspect the haul rope and other components to determine how long the repair work is likely to take. At this stage I can confirm the lift will be inoperable for at least one week. If the Haul Rope is damaged that could require us to import a new rope from Europe (months). We will keep you posted on repair progress as we know more.” – Mt. Ruapehu, today

IMPORTANT ANNOUCEMENT (RAL CE ROSS COPLAND): This morning at Turoa during routine avalanche control work a significant avalanche has been triggered. At approximately 0830 a number of start zones responded simultaneously with a large flow through “Gliding Gladys”. No-one was injured and all RAL staff are accounted for. The High Noon Express chairlift has suffered damage and engineers are responding to assess the extent. The upper mountain is closed at both ski areas today, keep an eye on our website snow report for latest details. All backcountry tourers are urged to check the latest avalanche advisory before venturing into the back country at”  – Mt. Ruapehu, today

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