Twenty Rescued from Ski Lift in High Winds

Twenty people were rescued from a chairlift at the Hlíðarfjall ski area outside Akureyri on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports. The lift stalled when the wire was blown off its spool by a strong blast of wind, stranding about 20 people mid-air for close to two hours. Luckily, the area’s Search and Rescue crew was able to get everyone to safety and no one was injured in the process.

Weather conditions are assessed at ski areas every day to determine if it’s safe to open. But while conditions weren’t ideal at Hlíðarfjall on Friday, the wind wasn’t initially so strong that it was thought unsafe to ski and snowboard. By the afternoon, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

From noon, the wind started to pick up again, and it was decided to stop letting people in the lift at 12:30,” explained a post on the Hlíðarfjall Facebook page. “There were still 21 people on the lift. Our chairlifts have built-in wind protection that slows down and stops the lift at certain wind speeds. An attempt was made to drive the lift slowly backwards in the hope of evacuating it, but as the wind continued to increase, it did not work and the lift came to a complete stop.

The Súlur Search and Rescue team used special equipment to rescue those who had been stranded on the chairlift in high winds. Image via the Hlíðarfjall Akureyri Facebook page.

It was then that Search and Rescue and police were called, explained Hlíðarfjall director Brynjar Helgi Ásgeirson. Ski area staff regularly train in ski lift rescues, but the wind, which had reached 20 m/s [44.7 mph], made the process much more difficult.

Luckily, everyone on the lift was back on the ground within two hours of it stopping. Australian Andrew Davis was one of those rescued from the lift. He told reporters that everyone who was stuck kept calm, and no one seemed to be in too bad a shape, though the wind was battering them about.

Andrew said he did consider jumping from the lift, as he was confident he could have stuck the landing. But in the end, he decided to wait it out, and saluted the Search and Rescue team for their fast work. Two 13-year-old girls were also amongst the stranded, but Bynjar Helgi said they were “quite upbeat” when they made it back to the ground.

After the rescue, those who had been stranded were offered trauma counselling, although no one chose to take it. What everyone did want, however, was the hot chocolate that ski area staff had waiting for them. “After a short while and some hot cocoa, people were smiling and putting this down to experience,” said Brynjar Helgi.

Hlíðarfjall was closed on Saturday due to unsafe weather conditions. To check current conditions and look at the area’s web cams (in English), see the Hlíðarfjall website, here.

WWII Mortar Exploded in Controlled Detonation

The Coast Guard’s Explosives Unit was dispatched on Friday to detonate an unexploded British mortar that was found on Mt. Hlíðarfjall, just west of Akureyri, RÚV reports. The mortar dated back to World War II and was found not far from an area the British occupying forces used for training at the time.

The mortar was found by local teacher Brynjar Karl Óttarsson. “I found [it] last fall and immediately suspected that it was a bomb,” he explained. “I waited  [to report it] because winter was setting in but then I let [the authorities] know about it in the summer and they came yesterday. We went back up there and blasted that bomb to smithereens.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

Brynjar accompanied two Coast Guard specialists and an explosive expert from the British army to the site where the mortar was found and was allowed to observe the controlled detonation.

“Hlíðarfjall is now one mystery poorer, but also a safer place to be,” he wrote in a Facebook post about the experience.

“Dangerous explosive remnants have been found on the mountain in recent years,” wrote Brynjar Karl. “But this is the first unexploded bomb to pop up on Hlíðarfjall since I started making a habit of going there. The cylinder intact and the tail like new. Einu með öllu: ‘one with everything,’ as the saying goes.”

“I got to watch the ceremony that goes along with destroying such a troublesome artifact,” he continued. “Place it against a large rock, attach an explosive device, position yourself at a reasonable distance, relay messages via radio to the appropriate parties about the impending explosion, and then press the button. KABOOM.”

Brynjar Karl Óttarsson

“I was shocked, to be honest. I figured on a sound, but not such a cacophony. Even the veteran jumped: ‘I never get used to this,’ said the Brit. The stillness and peace of the mountain of course magnified the din. The plume of smoke was not as magisterial. That bomb finally got to explode after 80 years. Mission accomplished and back down the mountain before dark.”

Asked if he thought it was possible that there were more unexploded bombs hidden on Hlíðarfjall, Brynjar Karl said it was quite possible, given the area’s history as a military training site. But the location where the mortar was found is well off the beaten track, he assured reporters, and quite a distance from the nearest ski area. Even so, caution is always the best policy, he said. “There’s always associated risk if you’re out in nature.”

Organizers Shovel Snow from Mountain Path in Advance of Summer Trail Running Event

The Súlur Vertical trail-running event will take place on mountain slopes outside of Akureyri, North Iceland this weekend. RÚV reports that organizers and volunteers have been hard at work preparing the trails, even manually shovelling snow on the uppermost slopes of Mt. Hlíðarfjall in order to carve out a running path for the longest race.

This is the seventh time Súlur Vertical has been held and participation is higher than ever been before, with 556 people registered to take part in three races of increasing distances: 18 km [11 mi], 28 km [17 mi], and 55 km [34 mi]. The longest race includes a section on Mt. Hlíðarfjall and a 3000-m [1.86-mi] elevation gain (earning 3 points with the International Trail Running Association).

Súlur Vertical, FB

“This section has been impassable due to snow since the winter,” read a Facebook post about the organizers’ trail-clearing efforts on Tuesday. “But many hands, shovels, ( and chainsaws!) made for light work and [this stretch] shouldn’t be much of an obstacle this weekend.” Súlur Vertical director Þorbergur Ingi Jónsson later clarified that the chainsaws were used to break through hard-packed ice along the trail and said the whole process took only a few hours. “When you have such a powerful group, projects like this one are no problem.”

“This also opens one of the most popular mountain trails around Akureyri to the general public and we welcome that,” he wrote in Tuesday’s post, “as one of the goals of the Súlur Vertical organization is to promote outdoor activity and physical activity in the area.”

Súlur Vertical, FB

The weather forecast isn’t looking promising for the coming weekend, and there’s even the possibility of snow in the mountains. But Þorbergur isn’t discouraged. “We’ll just make the best of the conditions and we’ve got plenty of hot cocoa and things like that.”

Learn more about Súlur Vertical (in English) here.