Ski Lift Evacuation at Northstar, CA Today | Eyewitness Account

Claire Weiss | | Industry NewsIndustry NewsTrip ReportTrip Report
Sunny Northstar. Photo credit: Claire Weiss

Today was a nice bluebird day at Northstar. We skied a few off-piste runs on Backside and were about to check out Lookout mountain when the Promised Land chairlift suddenly stopped. That was at ~ 10:30 am in the morning, about halfway up the mountain.

The lift was pretty packed – almost all chairs were fully occupied.

Probably ~200 people.

And it was not surprising as it was a middle of the day, and the last weekend of the famous Bay Area “ski week”.

Promised Land Chair lift. Photo credit: Claire Weiss

By 11am a ski patroller skied down to tell people that the lift is broken and they are going to get evacuation teams to lower people down.

After an hour, another patroller skied down and checked if we are ok, asking if anyone had a medical emergency and said that they will get Kirkwood and Heavenly evacuation teams to help them rescue people.


How long will it take for an evacuation team just to get to Northstar from Kirkwood and Heavenly on a busy ski weekend?

I would hope Tahoe ski resorts get a cooperation plan for an emergency like this and get nearby teams to help.

Ski patrol waiting. Photo credit: Claire Weiss

Sometime later, we finally saw ski patrollers skiing down to the first few chairs with the ropes.

After another half an hour, three lucky people were skiing down! Yay!!  

But they told us, that evacuation team stopped lowering people and will get off shortly as they hope to start the lift again.

Overall, it took Northstar two hours to get the first person off the chair.

By my estimate, it would be at least five more hours to get everyone evacuated, with four teams lowering one person every five minutes.

What if the weather would not cooperate?

Surprisingly, most people were in great spirits and were even trying to have fun, tweeting, talking selfies, joking.

Well, it took some time until we started moving!


The lift was crawling at 0.5 mph, so it took another hour for us to get to the ground.

The person who was last in line got off the lift around 3 pm!

2pm, almost there! Photo credit: Claire Weiss

Why did it take that long to organize the rescue? Why not to ask for help from neighboring ski resorts like Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows and Mount Rose as they can get there much faster?

Anyway, we were really lucky that the weather wasn’t that cold, almost no wind and the mechanics managed to get chair lift moving, but what if they would not be able to do so?

How long would it take to rescue that many people? It’s unbelievable..

Well, yes, we’re lucky for hanging on the ski lift for 3+ hours rather than for 12 hours until midnight…

Next time, when you go to a ski resort, don’t forget to pack rope – then you may be able to at least rescue yourself :). That’s a joke unless you have solid climbing skills. However, dressing warm and having a few snacks and hand warmers in the pocket helped us a lot.

Some facts:

Promised Land chair lift by Doppelmayr was constructed in 2011, has an average speed 5 m/s and usual transit time is ~ 5 minutes.

It’s, in fact, the newest ski lift at Northstar! And it’s been on and off for quite some time, so why wasn’t it finally fixed? Or closed on the busy weekend?

For comparison, it took 2.5 hours for Montana ski resort to get down 140 people just before New Years.

For recent evacuation at Stowe mountain, it took 2 and a half hours:

The Lookout Double lift stopped operating around 10:30 a.m. Sunday because of an interruption in the electrical system, Stowe Mountain Resort spokesman Jeff Wise said in a written statement. An auxiliary engine also did not work so the ski patrol started evacuating the lift at 10:45 a.m. using rope to rappel people down. All guests were safely off the lift by about 1 p.m., Wise said. Two people were treated for minor cold-related issues, he said.

For today’s case at Northstar, they lowered 6 people down with the rope by 12 pm (in 2 hours), so how much time would it take to get all other 190 people down?

Stay safe and have fun skiing! Hopefully, this won’t happen to you!

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10 thoughts on “Ski Lift Evacuation at Northstar, CA Today | Eyewitness Account

  1. There are so many factors that go into when a chair gets cleared for patrol to evacuate. I guarantee you that patrol was fully geared up and ready to start, and were just waiting on management to make the call. With a rope evacuation there are more risks then running the chair to clear people, so its always going to be the last choice. In this case waiting turned out to have been the right call as lift maintenance got the chair going. Everyone is an expert and no one likes waiting, but putting the blame on ski patrol shows how little respect you have for the people who do as much as they do to keep people safe.

  2. Hi … maybe they ran out of diesel to running the pulling engine at the top?

    On my way up the lift before it stopped a service guy hopped off his snowboard at pole 11 and proceeded to climb up. By the time I got back to lift … 3-4 minutes? They shut it down and the scramble was on for the one beside it.

    A short time later the lift did advance but I didn’t see if it was continuous.

    The lift had a engine at the top running for a while before it was shut down.

    So was there any real emergency? Maybe the tech who climbed up had something happen.

  3. FYI – Mammoth had chair 3 partially fail on Monday the 18th. It stopped and it took about 15 minutes before they fixed it enough to run it backwards. So they had patrol ski under the lift to tell everyone they would back it down and we’d get off at the bottom. It was fairly quick, quite orderly and they gave everyone a free drink coupon, so all in all, a pretty good experience.

  4. Put a PR person as GM at Northstar as Vail did – instead of an experienced mountain manager – and this is what you get. Political correctness — endangers Vail customers.

  5. The real story here is that Northstar/Vail does not have the protocol, equipment or training in place to deal with this type of emergency. Untrained ski patrol has no clue how to rescue a skier from a chair, there was virtually no rope and belay equipment available, and horrible communications with the 200 stranded skiers.. One patroller told us when asked why they couldn’t draw from Squaw resources around the corner, he said “they’re not in our program”, referring to the Vail corporate ownership. Safety be dammed. And we overheard ski patrol on on their radio of the patrol call for a blanket for because she was cold after climbing the tower. Guests be dammed.

  6. I work at a small ski location as a Ski Patroler and we expect to have every single person off the lift with in two hours but we practice a lot. The lifts are old and we expect this to happen even with a functioning aux-motor. We have never had to do it for real but we practice. We are expected to be able to do this to the last man/woman and we can even get staff to help us if it is manpower problem. This is sign od the management not wanting to poney up.

    1. Nikki – if you weren’t there you shouldn’t comment on Northstar’s actions. Claire’s timeline is reasonably accurate. The rope evacs were a joke – I think maybe they evac’d 4 or 5 people, and that was only after a couple of hours. . We all heard the Heavenly/Kirkwood comment from the patroller. They didn’t even follow their own evacuation plan submitted to Placer County.—Northstar-California-Emergency-Response-Plan-PDF?bidId=

  7. Vail resorts doesn’t want to spend money because all they care about is profit . Period. Northstar needs better ski
    Patrol training and new chairlifts, every
    Summer the vista chair breaks at least once a week. Time for vail to spend some
    Some of their massive profits on new chair lifts and stop buying ski resorts for a while.
    Five years ago a woman racing in the Tahoe trail 100 crashed and broke her collarbone, it took almost five hours to get her off the mountain, Northstar bike patrol basically said its not our responsibility , other competitors gave up Racing and helped get her off the mountain. Don’t ski at Northstar, that’s the lesson here.

    1. Probably a comp ticket good for another day this season. Really helps out the Epic Pass holder that sat on the lift for hours..

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