Lake Louise gondola breakdown strands skiers

A gondola malfunction at Lake Louise Sunday left dozens of people – including children – stranded above the ski hill for hours.

A gondola malfunction at Lake Louise Sunday left dozens of people – including children – stranded above the ski hill for hours.

Rescue at Lake Louise, Alberta, Sunday night.

About 65 people were left sitting in the chilly cabins for up to five hours, as night set in and temperatures dropped.

As the rescue operation continued into the evening, angry parents accused the resort of mishandling the incident.

"It's ridiculous," said Jody Vanderwerf, whose sons, aged nine and 10, waited more than three hours to be rescued. "We were told our kids were second priority, and all these adults were coming down.

"It wasn't done well. I mean, I'd have done much better. If they'd told us initially, right from the get-go, what the situation was, we could have been better prepared. But my son said someone was skiing up and down the gondola line saying, 'oh, 45 minutes,' 'no, half an hour.' [They'd] come back, 'no 10 more minutes.'"

Vanderwerf, who lives in Canmore, said the boys were terrified, cold and crying when they used a cellphone to call their parents.

She's also concerned that no medical personnel were waiting when people were brought down from the gondola, except the ski patrol.

Hot drinks passed around for gondola passengers.

"They were basically given some hot chocolate and a blanket when they got out of the gondola, taken out to the lodge by snowmobile and that was pretty much the extent of any medical intervention," Vanderwerf said, adding she took her sons to the hospital in Banff to make sure they were fine.

The trouble occurred about 3 p.m. along the Grizzly Express, the resort's longest lift, which stretches 2,918 metres from the resort's base.

Mark Mosteller, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies' senior business director, says a wheel that runs along the cable failed, tripping a safety switch.

He calls it an unfortunate accident, but says the ski hill's safety procedures worked properly.

"The team did a fantastic job and the ultimate result is that no one was hurt and that is the most important part, is that safety is number one for our team," Mosteller said.

Eight ski patrol teams began rescuing people after 5:30 p.m., using a pulley device to reach individual cabins and then lowering people in harnesses to the ground.

It took until nearly 9 p.m. to get everyone down and take them off the mountain by snowmobile or snow cat.

Resort officials said a few cases of frostbite were reported.

Temperatures had dipped to -6 C on some parts of the mountain by early evening.