Jaclyn and Brennen McConnell had planned their elopement in the Alberta Rockies a year ago, but hadn’t prepared to spend their wedding night sleeping on the floor of a mountaintop building.
The Kelowna, BC couple tied the knot on Monday before taking the Banff cable car to the top of Sulfur Mountain for wedding photos by photographer Pala Kovacs.
“We were only planning to be there for an hour. Pala took the most unreal photos,” Jaclyn McConnell said Wednesday in an interview.
“We were getting ready to leave and the power went out. So, we took a few more photos and then nothing happened and we stayed there for 13 hours.”
The popular tourist attraction in Banff National Park had stopped working due to a power outage caused by a thunderstorm.
Both McConnell and Kovacs said there didn’t appear to be much of a plan afoot.
“We waited and they told us at different intervals what they were doing, but it was very obvious that they didn’t have any kind of contingency plan,” Kovacs said. “However, the staff that worked there were really great.”
A spokeswoman for Pursuit, which operates the gondola, said they have strict procedures for such incidents.
“But we will always be looking for ways to improve our guest communication response,” Tanya Otis said in an email.
She said the gondola has an auxiliary generator that allowed the company to bring guests who were in the gondola’s cabins safely when the power outage occurred.
“In accordance with Canadian Standards Association rules for passenger cable cars, backup emergency drive systems are used exclusively to disembark guests in gondola cabins in the event of a stop,” it said. “Not to unload guests from the mountain.”
The company has said that several hundred guests had to be helped down from the summit after the gondola closed. Parks Canada said its visitor security team was involved and all the guests were shot down on Tuesday.
Some of the guests hiked the 3 1/2-kilometer trail down the mountain at night, while others waited until Tuesday morning to go down.
McConnell said people were told they could walk around 2 a.m., but that it would be at their own risk.
“It had been a storm, there was lightning everywhere, plus it was dark,” he said. “It’s completely dark and there are bears everywhere. A lot of us didn’t feel comfortable walking around.”
They also did not have proper footwear, he said, so they ended up spending the night in the building above.
“We slept on the floor,” McConnell said. “My husband slept in his suit on the floor. I slept in my wedding dress on the floor.
Kovacs said there were about 100 guests, including children and seniors, who chose to travel by helicopter.
“I couldn’t walk down if I wanted to,” he said. “I had a suitcase full of photography equipment and all my lighting and stuff, so we waited until morning and they took us out by helicopter.
“They were pretty efficient about it, we just had to wait until daylight.”
Kovacs said it wasn’t as stressful as he had hoped, but it was difficult for kids and older people who got stuck.
“Because it’s a gondola, it’s the easiest and most accessible way for people to experience (the) alpine,” he said. “So, I felt really bad for them because there were no comfortable spaces. They were cold and hungry.”
She said the staff opened a restaurant around 3 a.m. Tuesday and prepared some food once it became clear the remaining guests would be spending the night on top.
Kovacs said there was a child who needed medication and the first aid kit was not fully stocked, but one of McConnell’s friends is a pediatric doctor and was able to help that family.
“There were definitely some people who were more stressed and took it out on the staff,” he said. “But for the most part, people pretty much understood that it was out of their hands.”