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One snowboarder in Lake Tahoe survived overnight in a gondola – here’s how

One snowboarder's terrifying tale of being trapped in a gondola overnight

Heavenly Ski Resort gondola Lake Tahoe
Heavenly Ski Resort

Skiing and snowboarding provide winter thrills to spare. Fresh powder and morning groomers dazzle the senses, and advanced terrain lets you progress your skills. When resort skiing, chairlifts, gondolas, and trams take you to the top, with stunning views and a high-speed ride.

In cold, stormy weather, gondolas are nice, with an enclosed cabin that lets you warm up. Typically, they hold around eight people, allowing for conversation and planning ahead of the next run. 

But recently, one gondola passenger had a harrowing experience at Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe. It goes to show even the tightest safety precautions sometimes don’t work, along with the importance of having a fully-charged phone. Here’s what happened.

Heavenly Ski Resort groomer Lake Tahoe
Heavenly Ski Resort

Why this snowboarder’s experience is a cautionary tale

When you ski or ride, it’s a given the chairlift/gondola/tram drops you off at the top. After all, you’re eager to hit the hill and can’t wait to buckle in and take off. It’s as easy as exiting, picking a trail, and turning to your heart’s content. But Monica Laso’s experience at Heavenly Ski Resort was anything but a joyful mountain getaway.

Lake Tahoe has some of the finest big mountain terrain around. Huge vertical drops, abundant snowfall, and lake views make it a peerless winter destination. But the powerful sun and arctic air can take a toll toward the end of the day.

Monica Laso found herself in that situation on January 24. While with friends, she was too fatigued to snowboard down. She approached a resort worker, who led her to a gondola to “download” (ride down the mountain), and she boarded around 4:58 p.m. From there, things went sideways.

Two minutes after boarding, the gondola stopped, leaving her stranded for the night. How long? Try 15 hours through a 23-degree night. Compounding the situation was her lack of a phone or a light, leaving no option but to hunker down for the evening.

Throughout the ordeal, Laso screamed at passing employees, eventually losing her voice. When her friends couldn’t reach her the next day, they contacted the El Dorado County Sheriff. Workers finally discovered her the next morning. 

Powder skiing in Lake Tahoe at Heavenly Ski Resort
Heavenly Ski Resort / Heavenly Ski Resort

Safety precautions for late-day skiing and riding

In Monica Laso’s case, several factors contributed to a dangerous situation. The time of day, “downloading” the gondola, and being alone all played a part. While what happened wasn’t her fault, there are some precautions you can take to avoid the same.

  • When you’re skiing or riding, it gets dark and lonely in the afternoon. The sun begins setting, shadows form, and people start to leave. Most resorts close around 4:00 p.m. We’d take our last run a half-hour prior to last chair, before ski patrol makes sweeps.
  • When you’re alone on a mountain and don’t know where to go, ski patrol is the safest place to turn. They’re highly knowledgeable and put safety first, ensuring you get where you need to go. With military-like efficiency, a ski patroller takes care of business.
  • Skiing and riding alone provides solitude and enjoyment. But as the day wears on, or in remote terrain, it’s important to buddy up or stay with a group. You could get lost on a new mountain or stuck in the glades, and having friends nearby ensures your safety.
  • Lastly, when “downloading” a gondola late in the day, we’d speak to ski patrol first or ride with someone. People can’t see through the sides, leaving the possibility of a long night. 

Monica Laso’s experience on a Lake Tahoe gondola serves as a cautionary tale. Even when workers point you in a particular direction, that doesn’t mean it’s a safe option. Laso deserves credit for her fortitude throughout the night, and thankfully, she emerged unscathed. To avoid a similar situation, you can take precautions, ensuring you reach the village safely. 

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Mark Reif
Mark’s a lifelong snowboarder with a passion for the sport. He lives in Stowe, Vermont, where he also works as a snowboard…
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