More than 40 people were stranded on a ski lift at China Peak Mountain Resort on Wednesday afternoon when strong winds blew a cable off its line, resort owner Tim Cohee said.
The derailed cable was opposite of the chairs on Chair Lift 6, meaning those suspended didn’t experience a jolt or drop when the lift came to a stop, Cohee said.
Two evacuation crews brought people down one-by-one, a tedious process that left some dangling in the cold for more than two hours.
“It was a choice to whether or not to try and put the cable back on again and bring them down,” Cohee said. “We elected to just not to deal with the wind and ended up having to evacuate everybody. It was a painless deal.”
Seth Baker, 19, of Bakersfield, said he was riding with his brother a little after noon when the chair lift got stuck. After they sat there for a while, they realized there was a problem, then saw the ski patrol start working its way down the lift rappelling people off.
Riders seemed to remain calm and be in pretty good spirits, he said. Baker said they were stuck on the lift for about two hours. The last of the riders were taken off the lift about 3 p.m., he said.
“I wasn’t very cold up there but I was pretty well insulated. I know some other people who were stopped in the shade got pretty cold,” he said.
Baker praised the ski patrol and China Peak staff for handling the ordeal “very professionally” and providing clear instructions during the rescue.
“Never once did I feel in danger while waiting to be taken off the lift or while being taken off the lift,” he said.
China Peak compensated everyone who was stuck with gift cards and replacement lift tickets, he added.
Temperatures near Huntington Lake dipped into the mid 20s in the afternoon. With winds blowing at speeds in excess of 45 mph, those stranded were left sitting in what felt like temperatures of 5 degrees or lower, according to the National Weather Service.
The winds were expected: On Monday, the weather service issued a 24-hour high wind warning for the Sierra Nevada mountains from Kings Canyon northward, starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The warning called for gusts of 75 mph or higher, said meteorologist Jim Bagnall.
Initially, China Peak opened chairs 1 and 6 Wednesday morning, but quickly closed them about 9:45 a.m. due to the heavy winds.
After a three-hour wait and what appeared to be the wind settling, Chair 6 was re-opened, only to have the cable derail.
“It was a beautiful day that turned to not that awesome,” Cohee said. “We really couldn’t operate today. It was just too windy. Hopefully 2015 will be better because we didn’t have a lot of luck in 2014.”
China Peak was still able to ring in 2015, as its fireworks show and New Year’s Eve party were still to proceed as scheduled.
Strong winds also forced closure of the Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park. The winds toppled trees early Wednesday along Highways 41 and 140 into Yosemite.
Hetch Hetchy and Badger Pass roads were closed, according to the park’s Facebook page, although the park’s recorded message later said the road to Hetch Hetchy had been reopened.
For current road conditions, call (209) 372-0200 (press 1 then 1).
Strong winds that raked the Sierra foothills Tuesday night knocked out power to thousands of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers in Oakhurst, Coarsegold and Bass Lake.
PG&E reported that power was restored to all customers in those areas by Wednesday morning.