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Boreal Community Media

Gondola Evacuation Focus of Emergency Exercise at Lutsen

Apr 09, 2018 12:57PM ● By Editor

April 9, 2018 –  On Saturday, April 7, Cook County Emergency Management, Lutsen Fire Department & EMS, and the Lutsen Mountains Ski Patrol welcomed the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team (MART) to work through how the special helicopter rescue team could assist to get people out of the gondola cars in the event of an emergency. MART is a joint effort of the St. Paul Fire Department and the MN State Patrol and includes 21 highly trained aerial rescuers and five State Patrol helicopter pilots.

Lutsen Mountains Ski Patrol currently has eight patrols trained in cable rescue who are prepared to scale the towers and cables that hold the gondola cars to get to those in need; however, the use of the MART team helicopter could greatly increase efficiency of evacuating the cars if ever needed. The emergency crews identified how the MART could land rescuers on the tops of the gondola line towers and the gondola cars themselves, to secure passengers and get them to safety much quicker than rescuers covering extensive challenging terrain on foot and climbing the individual towers. All Ski Patrol staff are trained in chairlift evacuation.

To date, Lutsen Mountain’s new three-year-old gondola system has never experienced any mechanical issues requiring such an evacuation, but the teams identified how they can work together if the time comes, including assistance with the incident command system and access to additional resources. 

This aerial gondola is the only transportation of its kind in the Midwest and takes passengers on a scenic ride to the top of Moose Mountain, rising 1,088 feet over Lake Superior. The ski area covers 1,000 acres and includes 95 runs. The overall lift capacity is 10,000 riders per hour. Lutsen Mountains see an average of 1,000 skiers/snowboarders per day along with scenic passengers and special event attendees at the mountain top chalet facility. 

St. Paul Fire Department Training Division Chief Tom McDonough, along with MART members Captain Michael Aspnes and Firefighter/Rescuer Kurt Chelgren and MN State Patrol Trooper/Pilot Greg Burgess worked with the local team which included: Lutsen Ski Patrol Captain Jim Ruzicka, Professional Ski Patrol Director Solveig Vick, Cable Rescue Ski Patrols Zach Richmond and Mark Rafen, Ski Patrol Communications Operator Paul Bottman, Lutsen EMS’ Chief Matt Kartes and Fred Schmidt, Lutsen Fire Department Travis Wickwire and Stephen Gray, and Cook County Emergency Management Director Valerie Marasco.

Later this year, in between the snow and summer seasons, the teams will perform tests of the newly identified evacuation tactics and further identify emergency response roles.