BANFF – Hundreds of people were forced to spend the night in the upper terminal visitor centre of the Banff gondola on Sulphur Mountain when a power outage shut down the gondola Monday night (Aug. 8).
A lightning storm caused both a Banff and Canmore-wide power outage at roughly 8 p.m. Monday (Aug. 7), with people also being stuck in gondolas going down to the parking area until about 10 p.m.
Tanya Otis, director of media and communications for Pursuit, said people stuck in the gondola cabins were brought down to the parking area with backup power.
“When the power went out last night our first priority was to ensure the safety of those in the gondola cabins,” she said. “Once those guests were safely downloaded, we were able to fully assess the situation and then we were focused on ensuring guests in our upper terminal had food, beverages and blankets throughout the area while we continued to update them on the situation.”
Otis said some people hiked down the roughly 5.5-kilometre switchback to the parking lot Monday evening and others did the same Tuesday morning. She said Parks Canada was assisting in flying the remaining people from the visitor centre on Sulphur Mountain down to the parking area. Alpine helicopters was also assisting bringing people down to the parking lot area.
Otis said as of about 10 a.m. Tuesday, about 50 people remained at the upper terminal.
Current situation at the @BanffGondola 👎🏼 The lack of preparedness for situations like this is astonishing. Not even the gift shop is giving away blankets, sweaters etc… only the restaurants started to provide food after 2 hours here and with nobody telling us what is going on pic.twitter.com/ERUWf3MI27— Helena Gil (@gil_helena) August 8, 2023
A spokesperson for Banff National Park said they’re working with Pursuit to help visitors stuck on Sulphur Mountain.
“Parks Canada is aware of the situation and is currently working with Pursuit to get visitors back down from the summit safely,” said Emma Badgery, public relations and communications officer with the Banff field unit.
Peter Brodsky, public affairs manager for Fortis Alberta, said the outage was transmission system-related instead of distribution and referred questions to AltaLink.
Scott Schreiner, the vice president of external engagement for AltaLink, said the outage began at 8:20 p.m. when two different transmission lines tripped because of the thunderstorm that hit the region.
“Those transmission lines feed the Bow Valley area, so for 16 minutes Canmore, Banff, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise were without power,” he said. “Because of the dry conditions, we did a little bit of analysis on the ground conditions before attempting to restore that line from our control centre. At 8:36 p.m., we restored one of those lines and that brought the power back on.”
Schreiner said about 16,000 customers were impacted. He added AltaLink crews are patrolling the second transmission line to make sure it’s safe to bring back online but it remains out of service as of Tuesday morning.
“While we have experienced gondola stoppages due to severe weather, the length of the stoppage is unprecedented,” said Otis.
Otis said Pursuit is assessing the situation and are hoping to have a better idea later today of when they can reopen.
Banff RCMP said they did receive calls last night, but referred all media questions to Pursuit.
The Outlook will update when more information becomes available.