February 10, 2011

Wescott sees silver linings
from incident at Sugarloaf

As perhaps the most famous of Sugarloafers, snowboarder Seth Wescott has fielded more than his share of questions following the chairlift derailment at the mountain last month that injured eight and spun into a national story.

click image to enlarge

Skiers ride a chairlift at Sugarloaf. Another lift derailed on Dec. 28 in high winds, injuring eight people.

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

"I've been asked about it a lot," he said. "I've been trying not to speculate. The good part of what's going on there right now is that we're starting a five-year expansion. That chairlift was planning on being replaced.

"Fortunately no one was killed. I could go through lists of horrific accidents that have happened around the world. We were fairly lucky. It was good we had so much snow that week. So when they fell they at least hit something soft."

Wescott, who lives at the base of the mountain, wasn't home when the derailment occurred Dec. 28.

As an ambassador of the mountain and a longtime Carrabassett Valley resident who is deeply entrenched in the area, he heard quickly.

"Our condolences go out to all of those people and their families," said Wescott. "I would think it would be horrifying to get back on the chairlift. If that's how they spend their recreational time, the reality is (it's horrible) to have that happen."

The following day, Wescott reminds, a similar incident occurred at Whiteface, a venue of the 1980 Olympic Games in upstate New York that most people never heard about. Dozens were evacuated by rope.

"It's one of those things, had there not been a person from CNN on the lift, it never would have made national news," said Wescott. "It's really hard operating those machines in inclement weather. The tolerances are so small."

Wescott said a silver lining of the incident was to keep improvements to the mountain on the front burner. Boyne Resorts has said it hopes to invest some $25 million into a 10-year improvement plan, called Sugarloaf 2020.

Spillway East, which derailed, is in line to be replaced first, with a $3 million, four-person chairlift.

"It's kind of gotten the awareness up. It's time," said Wescott. "They're fine to operate. But to move forward as a modern ski area, it's time to increase that uphill capacity and get people to not be waiting in lines."

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

jmenendez@pressherald.com

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