When the resort could not get the lift working again, ski patrollers rescued the stranded passengers Sunday by traversing the cable using rescue equipment in a feat one witness likened to something out of a James Bond movie. Resort officials said the most severe injuries were a few cases of frostbite.
Jon-Henry Vanderwerf, 10, was alone in one gondola for three hours with his 9-year-old brother, Luke.
"It was scary, it was cold and the wind was blowing the car from side to side," he said. "The worst part was just before they rescued us. It kept swaying and rocking."
The Grizzly Express lift stopped about 3 p.m. local time, shortly after the World Cup ski races ended at the Rocky Mountain resort. One of the safety switches tripped, said Rick Werner, the resort's operations manager.
He initially compared the problem to a flat tire and said the resort was trying to fix it. But the lift never started again and it was 8:50 p.m. before everyone was off.
Eight teams of ski patrollers attached self-propelled pulley units to the gondola's cable to reach the individual cabins, officials said. They then hooked cables and harnesses around the trapped passengers before lowering them to the ground.
The evacuees were taken off the mountain by snowmobile or snow cat.
Texas tourists Olga Elman and Glen Schwartzverg praised the ski patrols who rescued them after about two hours.
"These guys knew what they were doing. They made sure we were OK," said Elman, 47, of Houston, who was lowered by harness about 130 feet to the ground. She said it was an adventure.
"I've skied for 25 years and never, ever, ever, I never expected anything like this," she said.
Daniel Ulmer and Ralf Schmeckenbecher, German photographers who were riding the gondola after covering the World Cup races, said they were stuck for more than 4 hours.
"We had barely gotten on the gondola when it stopped," Schmeckenbecher said, adding their rescuer "came down the pulley thing like James Bond."
Derek Goodbrand, 22, of Calgary, who was also trapped, said he was bored until the rescue started. "It was really fun being lowered in the harness," he said.
Michael Guiffre, a cardiologist whose 15- and 10-year old sons were among those on the gondola, said the rescue plan was only initiated after people had been stuck for two hours.
"I'm very unhappy," he said. "They've had no fluids, no food, no external source of heat. They're at risk for hypothermia."
Giuffre said the resort brought out lights to illuminate the hill for those trapped only after he complained.