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Ski lift collapse in Georgia forces people to jump off mid-air

BEAM Staff
March 16, 2018

A ski lift in Georgia's Gudauri resort has suffered a severe technical malfunction leading to ski chairs being pulled backwards at double the normal speed. The reason for the technical malfunction is yet to be determined.

To escape being hit against the starting wheel, skiers had to jump off as they approached the station, onto the snow, mid air. No casualties have been reported although 10 people have sustained minor injuries..

According to early reports in Georgian media, the accident occurred due to a human error of the chairlift's operators. These only managed to stop the cable car as late as two minutes after it had started collapsing. First responders were at the scene in less than 7 minutes.

Located in the south-facing plateau of The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range in Georgia, the Gudauri ski resort operates a total of 7 ski lifts that service near 57km of slopes. Starting at an altitude of 1,990m, ski slopes go up as high as 3,279 meters. The location started developing itself as a skiing destination as early as 1975.

As the chair lift continued malfunctioning, chair lifts started pilling up and breaking off at the start of its loop. As chair lifts approached the starting dock, skiers were urged to jump off before reaching the station by first responders, mid-air. Those that stayed on the chairlifts were propelled off as they hit the broken off ones, 8 people sustained minor injuries, their lives are not in danger.

Thankfully, during the accident, over 130cm of snow had previously fallen on the ski resort, granting skiers the possibility to jump off the chair lifts without sustaining damage. The chair lift was eventually stopped, allowing other skiers on the lift to be rescued safely.

According to Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs, their department has launched an investigation under Article 275 of their Criminal Code, which implies a violation of the safety or operation of the cable traffic movement. Seven different types of injuries were reported during the accident.

A spokesperson for Austrian-based ski-lift producer, Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, told the Telegraph it does not yet know what caused the incident. "Our employees are already on their way to Gudauri. At the moment we have no detailed information."

According to operators, the chair lift in question  was last inspected on December 22nd 2017 and showed no signs of tear. Earlier last year, Georgia had announced its intention to place a bid to host the 2030 winter olympics with a combination of six mountain resorts spearheaded by Gudauri.

Destined for skiers of all levels, Gudauri is a popular skiing destination in Georgia, with a rapidly developing influx of hotels, guest houses, restaurants, lounges and bars. High altitudes allow the station to remain operational for longer periods of time, for up to 5 months per year, from December to late April. Average snow depths throughout the season sit at 2.5 meters.

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Located 120km from Tbilisi's International Airport, Gudauri is taunted as Georgia's most well developed ski resort, featuring strong infrastructure with well-equipped amenities. All of its chair lifts were built by Austrian Doppelmayr, a leader in cable transport that built infrastructure for many of Europe's leading skiing destinations. The resort's one gondola lift was built by French-based POMA.

During the 1990s, the ski resort had suffered from a loss of popularity, which led to a redevelopment program that saw it regain its status as Georgia's main skiing destination. In October 2016, it was announced that three new chair lifts would be built for a total investment of €9 million in anticipation of an increase of tourism the following winters. "These projects will help improve our country's tourism potential" then stated Dimitry Kumisishvili, Georgia's Economy Minister.

New hotel developments have followed this investment into the region. A Radisson Blu hotel with 160 rooms is, for example, currently being built to launch in early 2019. The hotel is being developed as part of a larger residential project called New Gudauri, into which real estate developer Red-Co is investing $70 million. The new infrastructure is set to occupy a land of 10ha.

In March 2017, Georgia had hosted a Diplomatic Ski Competition in Gudauri where accredited foreign officials in Georgia competed with local politicians in an effort to promote Gudauri and Georgia as a skiing destination. The Gudauri Inn Hotel was also then opened for the first time.

The incident comes days after the Georgian government agreed on a plan to develop more skiing destinations in Georgia such as Bakuriani, imitating the success of Gudauri. Indeed, as recently as February 7th, Bloomberg taunted "Gudauri, one of Europe's most exciting new skiing destinations."

With the build up of Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, as a touristic destination, the nearby Gudauri has also leveraged growth on this hype. A two-hour drive from Tbilisi, the resort is the country's largest both in size and amenities, it is also the highest. Plans for its active development have recently included connecting Kobi, a neighboring skiing area, via a cable car for a unified ski area.

The area's most high profile hotel is currently the Rooms Hotel, which has its flagship property in Tbilisi, a 30-minute helicopter ride from the ski resort. "When the Rooms Hotel opened in 2012, it finally brought city-worthy digs and amenities to the highlands of northern Georgia." claimed Vogue when the hotel first launched.