Operating the tram, selling souvenirs, and flipping burgers aren't the only things that Bridal Veil Falls employees are trained to do. Each year, tram operators and other personnel learn to rappel freestyle from what is said to be the world's steepest passenger tram.
Although dangling a few hundred feet above the ground with nothing solid surrounding you may seem a bit pointless, owner Dave Grow said there is rhyme and reason behind the training. "We've always had safety and rescue procedures, but procedures in the past have involved putting a smaller car on the cable and going down to meet the tram in case of an emergency. Then we bring the people up in the secondary car. However, we felt like the simplest procedure would be just to get the people directly from the tram to the ground below."After talking with several experienced mountaineers and specialists, Grow realized that, with training, that kind of evacuation wasn't so far-fetched.
"We've been training the employees in this type of rappelling since about 1985," said manager Gavin Nelson. "I feel it's important for employees, especially tram operators, to have that experience."
"It taught me how not to be scared," said tram operator David Keel. "I've never rappelled before, but now if I were in the situation where I needed to, I could do it without hesitation."
Jordan Nelson has worked at Bridal Veil for several years, so the rappelling experience wasn't new to him, but as head tram operator, the security the training gives him is important. Besides, it's kind of fun, too.
"It was great the first time," he said. "I've gone down mountains and straight down off the tram, and I'd rather go straight down any day. You're out in the open, you can't hit anything, you just feel like you're flying."
The emergency plan is quite simple, said Grow. "Each tram has a lightweight rope and, if we were in a position where we opted for this kind of evacuation, someone experienced would ascend from the ground on that rope. He would bring a heavier rope, which would be secured to the tram. After passengers had seen a guy come up the light rope, going down the heavier one would be a piece of cake."
The employee training is offered each year by mountaineer Doug Hansen. "It's a scary thing at first, but they all handled it well," he said. "The employees up here are well prepared. They know what options they have and the different ways they can deal with certain emergencies and situations."
"The first time I tried it, I was scared to death," said gift-shop operator Kim Casey. "I thought, `This is really crazy.' But after I did it once, it was great. The hardest part is when Doug tells you to step away from the tram and you just have to let go. But now I love it."
Hansen, who is planning and preparing for a 1992 Mt. Everest climb, decided the experience was so thrilling that he wanted to make it available to the general public. He now offers classes that include two hours of instruction at the top of the falls, and then a couple of hours where students can have their own "flying" experience.
In addition to tram rappelling, Hansen trains Bridal Veil employees in mountain rappelling and other search-and-rescue techniques.
However, despite all the time spent in safety training - or maybe because of it - in 26 years of operation, the tram has never had an accident or had to evacuate passengers. That's a record Nelson and Grow are proud of.
"And I hope we'll never have to," Nelson added. "But at least if we do, we're prepared."