( dpa )- Getting stuck on a lift is an adventure of a few minutes for most holiday skiiers , but dozens got more than they bargained for after being left dangling six hours over the Carpathian Mountains, in Ukraine.
Vasyl Nahorny , a spokesman for the Zahara Berkut ski valley, blamed the January 6 mishap suspending 152 men, women and children up to 15 metres above the windy slopes on bad equipment, and argued his company's management was committed to quality vacations for its customers.
"The axle of the lift's main winch shattered. We bought it six months ago from a Ukrainian factory and the guarantee is still good," Nahorny told Sehodnia newspaper. "And of course there were no injuries."
The ski valley returned its half-frozen customers to chalets and hotels throughout the region at no cost to the skiiers , he added.
Some holiday-makers treated to the extended mountain viewing opportunity nonetheless had little good to say about Zahara Berkut when finally on the ground, eventually delivered there after technicians managed to put the lift in reverse, and then unloaded skiiers one-by-one via a ladder set up at a point some three metres below the two-seat chairs.
Channel 5 television showed images of women clutching small children when gusts hit the stalled lift, according to riders so as to protect them if the apparatus fell. Under one chair, a woman made a successful jump into the snow, and then became hysterical when her daughter refused to follow her.
Ski valley management did not, however, refund the unlucky lift- sitters their 20 dollar daily lift tickets, skiier Ihor Branfgutin said.
Judging by market indicators, Zahar Berkut management in fact made the correct commercial decision.
Ukrainian skiing, is for villagers and businessmen canny enough to get in on the action, a winter goldmine, one of the most profitable leisure industries in the country today, insiders said.
"It's a captive market, we have this rising middle class, and if in the summer they can travel to Turkey or Egypt, in the winter there is no place Ukrainians can ski," said Maryna Komsomolska of the Kiev- based Mega Travel agency. "It takes a visa to go to the Alps or the Rockies, and the EU and the US doesn't want us Ukrainians. So that keeps the demand here."
Ukraine's ski industry has zoomed over the last decade from dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure and the rare enthusiasts willing to put up with the unpleasantness of using it, to some 4 billion dollars in annual turnover and over a few winter months in one of the poorest regions on the European continent.
Ukraine's Bukovel resort, in the Ivano-Frankivsk province, assuming the money keeps rolling in, is on course to become one of the largest skiing resorts in the world with 278 kilometres of runs and 35 lifts. Business plans estimate the project will cost more than 1 billion dollars, a sum exceeding all the foreign investment received by Ukraine as a country, during any year in the 1990s.
Real estate prices near ski valleys are rocketing as villagers convert once-destitute houses into chalets and even hotels. Where once an entire cottage could be rented for a season for a few hundred dollars, today a low-roofed room, sometimes with its own toilet, starts at a cool 20 dollars a night.
Tellingly, in Carpathian skiing centres like Slavsko or Drahobat the younger generation of Ukrainian women has, by and large, taken to winter fashion with a vengeance, rejecting their traditional fur coats and spike heel leather boots for colourful parkas and woolly hats, as a personal style statement.
Nothing seems to phase Ukrainian skiiers : not even lift waits exceeding 90 minutes in popular valleys nor sometimes indifferent restaurants with sketchy service, not generally unchallenging and often ungroomed hills, and most recently, not even a day on a cold bench suspended over the piste one intended to ski.
"Of course we'll keep skiing, we're on vacation!" Evhen Lazurkevich told Fakty newspaper. "You can't let a little thing like a small problem ruin your holiday."