Crystal Mountain chairlift destroyed by avalanche

THE NEWS TRIBUNE (TACOMA)March 11, 2014 

Crystal Mountain’s highest-elevation chairlift was destroyed Monday evening, March 10 by an after-hours avalanche intentionally triggered by the ski patrol, resort spokeswoman Tiana Enger said.

Nobody was injured in the avalanche that occurred at 4:45 p.m. when the ski patrol threw a 40-pound explosive in an area known as The Throne.

The avalanche swept down the Campbell Basin area and destroyed the High Campbell lift shack, burying the remnants under 6 to 8 feet of snow, Enger said. The two-story motor room was knocked off its foundation and two lift towers were destroyed.

The avalanche continued on to Queens Run, a popular beginners route. High Campbell will be closed for the rest of the season and Queens Run will be closed for at least a week while crews remove debris, Enger said.

Campbell Basin was closed to skiers Monday because of the deep snow, and Enger says it's impossible to know if the avalanche was at risk of happening naturally earlier in the day.

"A 40-pound charge is pretty significant, so I'd say the odds of it being triggered naturally or by skiers was pretty slim," Enger said. "You could probably have 100 skiers on it and not trigger the avalanche."

Enger estimates there were fewer than 500 skiers at Crystal on Monday.

Crystal Mountain is located on the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park. It covers 2,600 acres and has 50 named runs. It's also open in the summer with a scenic gondola ride

The High Campbell lift, opened in 1976, will be replaced over the summer. "It was already high on the priority list," Enger said. "Now it's definitely on top."

Less than two hours after pictures of the wreckage were posted on the resort's Facebook page, Enger received requests to purchase the seats. The ski area has sold seats from old lifts in the past for about $250.

Avalanche control work is a regular occurrence at ski areas. Ski patrols use explosives to trigger avalanches to make the terrain safer for visitors.

Recent heavy snow fall coupled with warming temperatures has led to several large, heavy after-hours controlled avalanches. Monday evening’s avalanche was the only to cause damage.

Avalanche control work will continue Tuesday and will require the Northway Lift to remain closed. Enger said officials will have a meeting Tuesday morning to determine if lift ticket prices will be reduced because of the closures.

High Campbell is believed to be the first chairlift destroyed by an avalanche in Crystal's 52-year history.

In January 2009, a landslide destroyed the lift at the Summit at Snoqualmie's Summit East, closing the ski area for two years.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 Craig.hill@thenewstribune.com Thenewstribune.com/outdoors Theolympian.com/outdoors @AdventureGuys

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