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Spirit Mountain lift problem leads to evacuation

Twelve-year-old Jack Genereaux of Sarona, Wis., is assisted to the ground by the Spirit Mountain ski patrol after a chairlift experienced a minor mechanical problem Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by Brad Genereaux)

Two separate incidents Wednesday evening at Spirit Mountain Recreation Area left some skiers and snowboarders temporarily stranded on a chairlift and, for about 10 minutes, everyone was left in the dark.

At about 5 p.m. the four-person express chairlift broke down and people aboard had to be evacuated, said Renee Mattson, executive director at Spirit Mountain.

"It was a minor mechanical issue," she said. "But we needed to get people off in order to fix it."

Although not a routine procedure -- the last time a lift was evacuated was last spring and before that the last time was in 2005 -- it's a manageable situation because the staff is well-trained, she said.

While people on the chairlift waited as ski patrol members began the evacuation process, what was described as a power surge left the entire facility without power.

"That threw a monkey wrench into it," Mattson said. "We've never experienced that before."

While the power was out, 12-year-old Jack Genereaux of Sarona, Wis., was on the stalled chairlift, hooking himself up to a wooden seat before being lowered down by ski patrollers using ropes.

"We were the third ones from the top and I thought it was kind of funny, just sitting up there hanging up in the chair," Genereaux said. "I think they handled it pretty well considering the whole place went out (dark) for 10 minutes."

Genereaux's father, Brad Genereaux, also was on the mountain, at the bottom waiting to ride the lift, when he found out it had been shut down.

He called his son to inform him the lift was closed, only to find out he was sitting on it.

"It was pretty chaotic ... when the power went off," he said. "Fortunately, they were able to get the lights on and I thought the ski patrol was doing a real good job."

A Minnesota Power crew came to the scene and determined the outage was not caused by Minnesota Power equipment, said Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge.

Mattson said all the circuit breakers tripped when the power went out, so skiers and snowboarders had to wait while they were reset and then they waited while the Minnesota Power crew made sure the problem wouldn't happen again.

"That was probably frustrating for some of our customers," she said. "Seeing the hill lit up with the other chairs running and not being able to use it."

After Jack, his friend and the family's exchange student from the Czech Republic were safely back on the ground, they heard the facility would be closing because of the problems, so they returned their rental gear. When they sought a refund, they were given passes for another time on the hill. Instead, with the lights back on, the hill stayed open. Mattson said the express chairlift would be back in service by today.

"For us it was an hour and a half up and back and we only did three runs," Brad Genereaux said. "It was interesting and now (our exchange student has) got a story to tell."