|Photo taken March 15 looking down Spillway off the Vista Quad|
In the winter, we get weather. Obviously, we all know this. We operate in Mother Nature's element, battling against her tantrums occasionally and it goes without saying that sometimes, Mother Nature wins.
So, what has to happen for a lift to go on wind hold?
The answer isn't as simple as you might think.
The two primary factors in a wind hold are speed and direction. People don't always think of the latter, but it's arguably more a more important consideration than speed. Wind direction is important because that's what makes the chairs swing side-to-side. We don't want wind to be coming in across the line (perpendicular to the cable itself). That's the situation we want to avoid when its windy and why the lifts go on hold in the first place. If the speed and direction of the wind come together to create a situation where the chairs are swaying too much, that's when a lift gets put on hold.
Speed is still important, as gusts of 40+ are capable of shutting any lift down, but direction is the linchpin so-to-speak. The wind could be blowing 30+ at the top of the mountain, but if it's directly up or down the lift line (in your face or at your back when you're riding up), there's a good chance the lift will still run. If it's coming at an angle across the line versus directly across it, there's a better chance lift mechanics will be able to get the lift running at a speed that minimizes chairs swinging. That's also why we sometimes run chairlifts at slower speeds on windy days.
Additionally, different wind directions affect each lift differently. Think of each lift as its own individual entity. We don't put the whole mountain on wind hold at once. Instead, our lift mechanics will check each lift throughout the day and assess it as an isolated situation from the rest of the mountain. If that needs to be put on wind hold, so be it, but it's not a sweeping declaration. That's why Wilderness and Timberline may be on hold one day while Vista and Snowflake can still operate. It's all about the direction the wind is coming in, combined with the speed of the gusts and how that affects each individual lift.
When a lift does get put on hold, it's not a white flag for the day. Our mechanics monitor the wind speeds and direction every 15 minutes while a lift is on wind hold, while also reading forecasts and weather stations to see what weather is coming in over the next few hours. It's a tedious but essential job to keep checking every lift all day, but that's why we're thankful to have the lift mechanics we do. Give those guys a high five next time you see them.
They're fighting the battle against Mother Nature and they, quite literally, are what keep our lifts running.