Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our maintenance team and Cookes, we cannot feasibly repair or replace the Far West T cable prior to our winter season ending on October 28th. The team is currently getting quotes for a new cable to repair the lift for Winter 2020.
This season has been particularly challenging due to weather. We are grateful for your understanding and patience this winter. To thank you for the continued support, we are going to open the Valley T bar for skiing and riding 10am-2pm during fine weekends in November. This will be free for all of our Life Pass, 2019 Season Pass and 2020 Anytime Season Pass holders, with discounted day pass rates of $49 Adult/$29 Youth available for purchase on the day by everyone else.
Check out our video update and the rest of this article for further information on the damage sustained and how it occurred.
What we do to prevent ice damage
Once T bars are rigged and signed off to operate for the season, we make a decision daily as to whether or not we remove the Ts off the line overnight. Ts will be removed if we are expecting ice. If left on, the ice can pull the Ts down to get buried in the snow or pull the cable down and cause the spring & rope mechanism to snap. Most other ski areas leave their Ts on all season as they do not experience the frequent ice seen here at Ruapehu. The spring boxes (attachments) for the Ts stay on the line all season as there is a greater chance of the cable derailing if the weight of the ice releases off the cable without them.
What is a 'release'?
A release is when a bulk of the ice shatters off in one go, due to the energy sent up the cable. A release can happen naturally or, more commonly, when we are deicing. We would expect about half a dozen releases during the season.
When deicing, our deicers will break through the ice and hit the cable. The vibration from the hits is what breaks the ice off. A release occurs when the vibration of the hit carries right up/down the cable, the energy of which shatters a bulk of the ice, sometimes making its way the full way around the entire cable. Natural releases happen when a change in temperature causes a chunk of ice to fall off, creating the vibration that sends energy through the cable to cause the release.
What caused the damage to the Far West T?
We experienced a 3-day storm cycle, with a high amount of ice loading for this time of the season. We deiced during the first two days and on the third day, the crew focused on clearing the east side, with Far West clearing scheduled for the next day. It is normal during larger storms for us to deice in cycles, rather than deice every lift every day.
Due to a change in temperature, a natural release occurred on day 3. As previously mentioned, we expect about half a dozen releases throughout the season. For every 20 releases, typically 1 would result in derail of the cable of this magnitude, which caused the cable to derail in 6 places.
After a derail, we assess damage to the spring boxes, wiring, assemblies and alignment. This is all routine practice after a storm in Ruapehu conditions and the same damage can be caused by heavy ice without a release.
Did this damage occur because the lift was not deiced?
The damage was because of an ice release. A release can occur at any time, and as discussed in the question What is a 'release'?, is more likely to occur when we deice.
What does a derail of this magnitude mean?
The team replaced damaged spring boxes and assemblies and completed the rewiring work. However, after this work was complete, further assessment of the cable on Sunday led to concerns around the core of the cable. Our ropes contractor Cookes arrived Monday morning and confirmed the potential damage and required us to drop the tension off the cable to assess whether repairs or replacements to damaged sections were required. Work continued on Tuesday and it was discovered that 3 of 6 strands in sections of the cable are irreparable. This effectively halves the strength of the cable. It wouldn’t be compliant nor safe to operate the Far West T without fixing the damage.
What is required to repair the Far West T cable?
Due to the location of the damage to the cable splice, we need 350 - 400m of cable to complete the repair. Cable is custom made for each lift and generally, we have 50m spare for each lift. A lot of resorts wouldn’t have any cable spare, as they don’t have ice loading and deicing wear and tear on the cable like we do. Such a large amount of cable has to be custom ordered and is made to order in Switzerland. Best case scenario, if the factory bumps our order to the front of the line, it would take a minimum of a month for the cable to be manufactured and airfreighted to us.
Replacement of the cable
Generally, cable wear and tear is picked up 2-3 years in advance and we order a new cable for replacement a season ahead. This is so we can transport the cable over snow, as it is difficult to transport any other way. For example, Knoll Ridge T cable was assessed as nearing the end its lifespan. A new cable arrived at the start of this winter and has been transported over-snow to the upper mountain. It is scheduled to be replaced at the end of this winter, once we are closed. Although we have a new cable for the Knoll Ridge T as previously mentioned, cables are custom made and it will not fit the Far West T Bar. We will have to order a brand-new cable to transport to the upper mountain once the snow arrives next year.