Tree falls onto chairlift cable, no serious injuries at Sierra

By Kathryn Reed

A treetop fell onto the cable of the West Bowl chairlift at Sierra-at-Tahoe this morning, bouncing a handful of people out of the chair and onto the slope.

sierraNo one was seriously injured. The skiers were treated by ski patrol and the doctor at the resort on Highway 50 on the outskirts of the Lake Tahoe Basin. No one was transported to the hospital. The five injured people left the resort on their own.

The people who tumbled out of the chair fell between 5 and 15 feet.

“There was no real damage to the chair so we ran it until all the people on it were off,” Kirstin Cattell, resort spokeswoman said. “We shuttled the rest of the people out of West Bowl. At 11am we closed the whole resort for the day.”

Cattell doesn’t know the last time Sierra was closed because of winds. This resort near the top of Echo Summit is considered one of the better places to ski when it is windy.

However, the National Weather Service is calling for wind gusts this afternoon at the lake being 50mph, with ridgetops hitting 100mph.

About 150 had to be escorted out of the West Bowl area either on snowcats or snowmobiles.

Cattell said everyone evacuated in an orderly manner, with no one panicking.

Resort officials are spending the afternoon inspecting the towers, cables and chairs to ensure the lift will be functioning on Monday. Ski patrollers are examining the terrain for precarious trees.

The tree that toppled today had been loaded with snow, temperatures warmed up, then the winds picked up which caused it to break from the top.

Cattell said, “We have a robust hazardous tree removal plan in place.”

The resort takes out about 100 trees a year that could be a danger to guests.

For people who skied on Sunday, they can bring their ticket with Dec. 19 on it back any day to trade it in for a full day lift ticket at Sierra, Cattell said.

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Comments (10)
  1. Tahoe Skier says - Posted: December 19, 2010

    This is almost accurate but one of the main facts are wrong. They fell from 20-30 feet. I know because saw the whole thing and was the first on scene.

  2. tahoe rider says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    That was the one point that I was really questioning. I’ve ridden that lift a dozen times in the last 3 weeks, and can’t think of anywhere but loading and unloading where snow is 5 to even 10 feet close. . . even with the storm. I’m curious what part of the lift this happened on? Glad everyone was safe! Sounds like Sierra did a great job responding!

  3. Craig says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    Ya get the facts right. I know a few of those that fell off and that was at least a 40 foot drop. I love how sierra’s website says it’s closed for “weather”. Just tell the truth and don’t sugar coat it. Sierra at tahoe is rarely closed for “extreme weather”.

  4. Careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    Really good reimbursement policy, some other resorts would do nothing.

  5. Dr.Stefan says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    There will be always danger when the weather conditions will replicate. Sierra at Tahoe should not allow the Resort to be open in such conditions.This type of incident will be bound to happen again if the wrong decision to permit the resort operate in such conditions is allowed!!
    I was in the lift about 5-6 chairs back!
    1. The fall was at least 20-30 feet.
    2. The tree broke of competely from the ground and it was really big and tall. About 4-5 rows inward of the tree line and not next to the cable.
    3. If this tree would have been right at the tree line it would have broken the cable and this would have been a different outcome!!
    4. Saying that just the tree top broke is a blatant lie!!!
    I am happy that nobody got seriously injured!
    My hope is that the management at Sierra will wise up after this incident!

  6. injured says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    I was one of the folks who fell, it was @25 feet, not 15 and not 40, certainly not 5, lol.

    The folks @ Sierra were awesome, very responsive, and took great care of us. Everyone involved was just happy that there were no life threatening injuries in what could have easily been a real tragedy. I was thankful I was not shattered, which is what I expected as I fell. Thank god for lots of fresh snow.

  7. injured says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    To clarify the tree… it was as Dr.Stephan said. There was a broken treetop near as well but that had happened some other time. The tree that hit was indeed felled near the base and was extremely tall (I reckon 100-150ft). I’ll never forget the sight of that coming for us. Its possible/probable the resort doesn’t realize that the broken treetop was not the tree in this incident. I hope they get the facts straight internally for future safety concerns. There were a number of trees in the immediate vacinity that looked extremely unstable due to the storm. Those will hopefully be investigated and removed as necessary… next time the consequences could easily be fatal.

  8. Valley skier says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    We were at Dodge Ridge Yesterday. The wind blew over several trees next to the chairlift. We were talking about the possibility of this happening. A 150 ft. tree fell across a run blocking 3/4 of it. Good thing no one was injured seriously!

  9. ragingbull says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    Glad no one was hurt seriously. Sounds like everything was handled well.
    I wish people would not speculate on things they do not know. Most of us
    can tell the difference between 5 feet and 25 feet but depending on the perspective
    many looking down at something or up at something are very poor at guessing heights.
    This comes from a person who sells and rents lifts and people say their lights are 40 feet high and we get there and they might be 25’ high.

  10. the dude says - Posted: December 20, 2010

    Some of the wind gusts yesterday were tornadic at times. These gusts can be over 100 mph and take out any tree in its path. Had a gust yesterday take out two healthy trees side by side about 200′ away from me. When the low pressure dropped in there were some crazy gusts for about an hour. I am not sure how you plan for that? I mean we live in a forest… A 25′ fall is a large fall.! Its good noone was hurt..