Camp Fortune skiers in high spirits after rescue from stalled chairlift

The main chairlift at Camp Fortune broke down Saturday afternoon, leaving nearly 140 skiers and snowboarders in need of "rope rescue."

Around 140 skiers, snowboarders stranded when lift stopped suddenly

One by one, skiers were lowered from the stalled chair lift with a rope and harness. (Chris Carter/CBC)

The March Break holiday got off to a rocky start for some skiers at Camp Fortune near Ottawa Saturday when the hill's main lift malfunctioned, necessitating a rescue mission with ropes.

About 140 skiers and snowboarders were stranded on the main quad chair when it halted around noon at the Chelsea, Que., resort.

Within minutes, ski patrol and Camp Fortune staff mobilized to conduct the rescue,s in which a rope with a harness loop is thrown over the lift cable to lower skiers to the ground one by one.

Skiers are lowered to the ground with a rope and harness 0:58

"I've been training my whole life for this!" shouted one ski patrol member to the skiers waiting above.

There were cheers when the first skier was lowered to the ground, and most of the riders seemed to be taking the incident in stride, making jokes as they waited their turn.

As of 2 p.m., everyone had been rescued and no one had been reported injured. 

'This doesn't happen often'

Erin Boucher, a manager at Camp Fortune, said that in her 20 years of working at the camp, she can't recall anything like this happening before.

"This doesn't happen often, but it is something that does happen in the ski industry," she said. "The good news is that it's relatively warm today." 

It's unclear what caused the lift to stop, but despite the difficulties, Boucher said it shouldn't disrupt the hill's normal March break activities. 

Seven other lifts were still running, she said, and most skiers and snowboarders were still making runs normally. 

Andre St-Laurent, an instructor-trainer with the Canadian Ski Patrol, said a full lift evacuation is rare. But despite the circumstances, spirits were still high.

"The mood tends to be really good," he said.

Kids in ski lessons stuck 

When the lift broke, it had been relatively full because ski lessons were in full swing, Boucher said.

That meant many of those stuck on the stalled lift were children, often accompanied by their instructors. 

Joanna Lafave's 10-year-old daughter, Gwen Bellan, was one of them. She said she was waiting in the chalet for Gwen's lesson to be over when she got a phone call from her. 

"She told me she's stuck on the chairlift," she said. "She's quite excited about the whole experience; she thinks this is an adventure."

Bellan ended up spending just more than an hour on the lift, and said she heard a loud noise when the chairlift stopped.

"When we were on the chairlift, we heard a big bang from the back," she said. 

Skiers were stranded on their ski lifts Saturday afternoon. (Chris Carter/CBC)

Camp Fortune said a "mechanical issue" caused the lift to stop working, and there was no word on what it might take to get the lift up and running again.

Taylor Sudermann was accompanying a ski school group when the lift stopped, she said. They spent the next two hours cheering on their rescuers. 

"I was with a ski school group, so it was a bunch of young kids," she said. "[We were] trying to make it sound like it was kind of a fun experience, and cheer people on."

Light-hearted experience

Lucy Peel, 22, and Jessica Kelly, 19 — both from Australia — were on a ski break from Queen's University in Kingston, where they are exchange students.

They said they were on the stalled lift for about 30 minutes before their turn came to be lowered down.

"I think we were stuck there for about a half hour before someone came over, introduced themselves and said we're going to harness you down," said Kelley.

Both skiers were pleased with the calming and quick response of rescuers.

"They talked to us a lot while we were doing it, and asked our names. It was quite high up," Kelley said.

Peel said being lowered from the chair was "pretty scary" at first. But it was also fun, the two agreed.

"It was a great experience — well, an experience," said Peel.

With files from Chris Carter