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Power outage near Detroit Lakes leaves skiers stuck on lift, thousands without power

At Detroit Mountain, lights were restored and enough power from a generator to get skiers down from the ski lifts after being stuck up there for a short period of time during a power outage Thursday night. This photo is taken by a student who waited up in a lift chair with his brother for their trip back down. (Photo courtesy of Stacy Heinlein)

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—A large Lake Region Electric Cooperative power outage in the Lake Eunice area south of Detroit Lakes left more than 2,000 households without power Thursday evening in frigid, below zero weather and also left skiers stuck on stalled lifts at Detroit Mountain.

The outage in the 8 below zero weather affected a large area around Detroit Lakes, according to Wild Rice Electric Cooperative, including The Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, which had to take emergency action to get the ski lifts moving again.

The outage hit different areas at different times, but in general lasted from about 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. to shortly after midnight.

The outage was caused by a broken switch on a Great River Energy transmission line near Audubon. That line feeds the Lake Region power substation at Lake Eunice and the Wild Rice substation at Erie, just east of Detroit Lakes, according to Joe Belz, operation manager with Lake Region Electric. Utility crews worked through the evening to get power restored.

Cold temperatures likely caused the Great River Energy switch to fail, Belz said. A crew from Great River Energy traveled to the area to fix the problem. In the meanwhile, Lake Region Energy crews back-fed electricity through their system to provide temporary power until Great River was able to fix the transmission switch. Some areas saw a reduction of power by about 50 percent for part of the event. Others saw a full blackout.

The power outage plunged Detroit Mountain into darkness and stopped the ski lift, leaving riders dangling midair.

"It was a little traumatic for the kids," said George Gartner, whose 10-year-old son, Dalton, was along on a chair lift when the lift stopped. "He called us and said 'I can't see the ground, it's so dark," Gartner said. On the lift, some people's cell phones weren't working, but Dalton was wearing a watch phone. "It works really well on the Mountain," Gartner said.

Dalton said the lift was stopped "for about 13 minutes,' Gartner said. "He was probably looking at his watch every two minutes, it was so cold."

Stacey Heinlein of Detroit Lakes said she and her husband were in the lodge at Detroit Mountain when the power went out, then came on again inside the lodge, but not outside. "I could see the lifts weren't back on, and it was pitch black outside," she said.

"I knew the people on the lifts were going to be OK, but what was going on in my mind was the people skiing down the back trails, running into a tree or something, but it turned out OK, nobody got hurt or anything."

She said management did a great job of getting emergency power to the lifts and getting people down.

Her 14-year-old, Wyatt, got a kick out of the whole thing. "He said it was fun," she said. Her son, Mikkel, 9, was on a different chair lift.

Heinlein and some other parents and the ski patrol helped get skiers back to the lodge, some using flashlights, after the power outage.

"It was good training experience for the staff," she said with a laugh. "Management and staff were awesome—they did a great job."

People were stuck on the lifts for a short while "while they fired up their back-up sources for their lifts," said Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Scott Flynn. "Pretty much that end of town was out (of power)," he added.

The Lake Region website listed five outages in the Lake Melissa, Lake Eunice, Pelican Lake, Dunvilla area.

Most started just before 7 p.m., but the largest (affecting about 1,500 customers) started about 8 p.m. in the Hand Lake-Holbrook Lake area.