September 28, 2015 - 6:30 PM
WEST KELOWNA - Robert Mellalieu will have to wait at least one more year before he's officially reunited with his ‘family’ at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort.
The six-year ski instructor on the hill has been waiting to get back to wintering with roughly 50 other volunteers and staffers since a ski lift accident injured several people and abruptly ended activities at the West Kelowna hill in March 2014.
“It really was a family up there,” he says. “It was a very close knit group and we all have a kinship with that hill. It hit us all very deeply. We weren’t really working for a corporation anywhere, we were all working with each other."
Though Crystal Mountain’s web page hasn’t been updated in a year and the phone number for the resort has been disconnected, resort spokesman David Tschanz told the Central Okanagan Regional District earlier this month the resort cannot open this year.
That much should be obvious. Since the B.C. Safety Authority found fault with the existing lift, it must be reengineered or, likely the cheaper option, a used lift will have to be brought in, engineered and installed. That could take years and millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Crystal Mountain is still pursuing aggressive expansion of the hill. A rezoning application has been on the books since the early 2000s, more formally since 2009 but kept alive through yearly extensions.
The resort was back before the regional district earlier this month seeking another extension and a decision is expected tonight, Sept. 28. Regional district staff recommend against another extension anticipating conditions may have changed with various referral agencies.
Mellalieu isn’t alone in hoping the resort can be saved. Like many West Kelowna families, he has fond memories. It's where his son learned to ski and where Mellalieu taught so many others of all ages as well. He is eager to return, even though he was one of the first to respond when the lift line lost its track and dropped skiiers — including two ski patrollers and another instructor. Luckily he and his son, also a ski instructor, were on the ground at the time.
"I remember looking around like where the heck are the chairs? Then 'oh, they are right there on the ground,'” he says. “I was dumbfounded at first… then the training kicks in. We had really good training at the time. Everyone knew exactly what to do.”
He raced to the downed lines and found another ski instructor who was just 16 years old.
“He had a really serious shoulder injury, in really bad pain,” Mellalieu says. “We just couldn’t move him. He was screaming out in pain. I am not that up in First Aid so my thinking was just hold on until other people are there.”
All he could do is talk, keep him conscious and keep his spirits up — and that happens to be something Mellalieu is good at. Especially at jokes.
“The poor guy was in pain and I’m like 'you know you aren’t going to get paid for this,'” he says.
It was all adrenaline for 20 minutes until the ambulances started arriving.
"After the ambulances were gone it was very emotional,” he says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones at email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015