Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Resort investigating gondola safety

Silver Mountain resort manager Brian Rhodes said he is reviewing gondola maintenance logs in light of claims by a former mechanic at the ski area that the resort’s system is unsafe.

The parent company of Silver Mountain, Jeld-Wen, issued a brief statement Thursday from Rhodes in response to allegations by the former mechanic.

“Silver Mountain has invested and will continue to invest significantly in the gondola system to preserve its excellent safety record and will continue an ongoing program of aggressive inspection and maintenance that meets or exceeds all applicable requirements,” the statement from Rhodes said.

The former mechanic, Tim Pipkin, quit earlier this month after he said his complaints over safety problems were shrugged off by managers. Pipkin said more than half the ski resort’s gondola cabins are riding on worn parts and are overdue for mandatory safety inspections. Three other former employees expressed similar concerns.

Rhodes has denied the allegations and called Pipkin a disgruntled employee. Rhodes had no further comment on the allegations, which were published in Thursday’s Spokesman-Review. According to a spokeswoman at Jeld-Wen, Rhodes was busy preparing for a beer and music festival scheduled for the mountain this weekend. The spokeswoman, Lynn Butterworth, stressed that the allegations were being taken seriously. But she said the company had nothing further to say.

Longtime Silver Mountain skier Mark Miller, of Spokane, said he was disturbed by the news and plans to ski at other area resorts until Silver Mountain can offer independent assurances of the tramway’s safety. Miller sent a message Thursday to Rhodes.

“Why would your former employee lie? You say he is disgruntled, I would be too if I were treated so,” Miller wrote. “Kudos to Mr. Pipkin for speaking out!”

State Rep. Mary Lou Shepard, D-Prichard, said she was “greatly disturbed” after reading about the alleged safety lapses. Shepard telephoned Rhodes Thursday to learn more.

“He was pretty open with me and faxed me everything I asked,” Shepard said. “They’re not taking it lightly at all.”

Unlike Washington and Colorado, where the states conduct annual safety inspections of ski lifts and gondolas, the state of Idaho offers no regulatory oversight. Ski lift inspections in Idaho are carried out only by the companies that insure the resorts. Shepard said she thinks the private oversight is probably adequate, but she added that she will be keeping a close eye on the issue.

State Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, is also hesitant to call for a larger state role in inspecting ski lifts. “I’m not a big proponent of building bigger government and adding another level of bureaucracy,” Nonini said.