A woman spent 15 freezing hours inside a gondola high above the snow-covered slopes of a Lake Tahoe area ski resort, according to local authorities.
Monica Laso was on a snowboarding trip with friends at South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Mountain Resort on Thursday when she decided she was too tired to ride her board back down the mountain, according to KCRA News, which first reported the incident.
So she asked an employee if she could take a gondola back down, boarding about 4:58 p.m. Two minutes later, the station reported, the ski lift stopped running and she was left alone, cold and without a phone or light.
Laso remained inside the gondola through the night, rubbing her hands and feet to stay warm as the temperature dropped into the low 20s.
Friday morning, a call came in to South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue about 8:30 a.m. There was a woman at Heavenly Mountain Resort who was suffering from cold exposure, the caller said, according to Sallie Ross, spokesperson for the department. She had been found inside the gondola after workers started the lift up for the day, sending her back down to the base of the mountain.
An engine was dispatched and minutes later firefighters arrived at the resort, Ross said. Laso was treated at the scene and declined to be taken to a hospital.
“They assessed her and she did not choose to be transported,” Ross said in a telephone interview Saturday. “It sounds like she wasn’t injured or anything, but she definitely didn’t have a great night, that’s for sure.”
Laso said in a Spanish-language interview with KCRA that she yelled out whenever a worker passed by below, but that she “felt very frustrated” because they couldn’t hear her. The long, dark night was “very cold,” she said.
The resort is “investigating this situation with the utmost seriousness,” said Tom Fortune, chief operating officer of Heavenly Mountain Resort.
“The safety and wellbeing of our guests is our top priority,” Fortune said in an emailed statement.
The incident came barely two weeks after one skier was killed and another injured in an avalanche at Palisades Tahoe, a ski resort about 40 miles northwest of Heavenly.
Ross said the fire rescue department had “certainly never responded to anything like this,” describing the incident as “a total anomaly.”
“I don’t know how something like that could have happened. It’s very weird,” she said. “She must have felt some kind of terror, really, knowing she’s there all alone and not knowing if someone was going to find her. That must have really been terrifying for her.”