Tramway works on getting grounded
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Suspended upright in a climbing sling below the Iron Mountain Tramway cable Sunday, Stan Tener wheeled out from lift tower No. 4, down to tram cabin No. 1.
A few minutes later, Tim Ray scooted down the cable the same way to join Tener, who was standing on top of the cabin.
About 20 minutes after that, Tom Shuler made his own trip from the lift tower, climbed inside cabin No. 1, and belayed Tener by rope to the ground, 70 feet below. Tener gently planted his feet on the blackened parking lot at the base of Traver Trail, looked up and waited for Ray to follow.
“That was a nice trip,” Tener said, as Ray prepared to drop down.
Tener, an Aspen Skiing Co. ski patroller, designed the Iron Mountain Tramway’s evacuation plan, and Ray and Shuler are among the first tramway employees trained in it. They demonstrated the plan to Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board inspector Tom LaVenture Sunday afternoon. The drill is required before the tram can be licensed to carry passengers to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, set to open the last weekend in April.
LaVenture, bundled in heavy coat and gloves, stood below the tramway cabins questioning tramway co-owner Chuck Peterson about evacuation equipment, the evacuation plan and conditions specific to the Iron Mountain system.
Speed was not an issue during Sunday’s test.
“But we will talk about that in regard to a worst-case scenario,” LaVenture said, as Tener, Ray and Shuler worked far above the ground.
The evacuation equipment includes rock climbing gear such as locking carabiners, harnesses, rope-like ladders, slings, 270-foot and 490-foot ropes, “diapers” for evacuees, and Petzel wheels that workers connect to the tramway cable to roll themselves from the lift towers down to the cabins.
The nylon Petzel wheel is one key to the operation. About six inches in diameter, the wheel is built into an enclosed tuning fork type frame to keep it from slipping off the tramway cable, and is attached to riders’ harnesses.
“It’s a James Bond kind of thing,” LaVenture said.
There are two sets of evacuation equipment stored in orange duffel bags and kept in a locked room in the tramway base terminal. “The equipment is inspected periodically, and we record it each time it’s used,” Peterson said.
An evacuation typically begins with a team of four members climbing the nearest lift tower uphill from the first group of cabins to be evacuated. Each lift tower has a built-in ladder.
From the top of the tower, an evacuation team member puts on a harness and other gear, attaches a Petzel wheel to the cable, rolls down to the first cabin, stops on the cabin top, attaches his own safety gear, then climbs inside the cabin and begins the evacuation procedure.
Each person is placed, one at a time, in a “diaper” that attaches to a 12-millimeter rope 270 or 490 feet in length. The rope is run through a built-in belay hook on the cabin’s roof.
The evacuation team member slowly lets out line as the person is belayed to the ground. The cabin’s belay device is friction-fed, so even if the team member lets go of the rope, the person on the rope would not be sent into a free-fall.
Peterson said a worst-case scenario, under normal weather conditions and maximum tramway capacity, calls for a complete evacuation of the tramway to take two to three hours.
Evacuees generally don’t panic or go crazy at the prospect of being lowered to the ground. “People tend to be more rational than you’d expect,” he said.
There are more than 350 tramways in Colorado, and evacuations are rare, Peterson said.
LaVenture estimated that only one or two tramway cabins, or chairlift chairs, are evacuated each year. “An entire lift gets evacuated only about once every 10 years,” he said.
Sunday’s evacuation drill was one of the final steps before the tramway receives full licensing.
LaVenture observed the evacuation drill as Tener and Ray served as test cabin occupants. He asked questions of Peterson, Tener and Ray, and inspected the evacuation equipment. He will also review written evacuation reports compiled by the Iron Mountain Tramway owners before approving the final evacuation plan.
“Our motto is `Trust but verify'”, LaVenture said.
Peterson answered all of LaVenture’s questions Sunday afternoon, and was calm throughout the exercise.
“I think it went just fine,” he said.
Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534
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