January 4, 2011

Mechanics tried to fix cable before chairlift derailed

When the repair failed, they decided to unload skiers from the lift, but the chairs fell first.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

and Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

(This story was originally published December 30, 2010)

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A skier who was on the chairlift is assisted by others Tuesday morning within minutes after the derailment on a mountain at Sugarloaf.

Photo courtesy Jack Michaud Photography

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Jeremy Smith and Chelsea Gibbin, both of Cumberland, said they had no qualms about skiing at Sugarloaf on Wednesday.

Deirdre Fleming photo

Additional Photos Below

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About Sugarloaf's Spillway East chairlift

Manufacturer: Borvig

Year installed: 1975

Year modified: 1983

Length of haul rope: 4,013

Speed: 500 feet per minute

Terrain it services: 1,454 vertical feet to advanced and intermediate trails

Number of chairs: 162

Chair interval: 50 feet apart

Weight of each chair: 140 pounds

Capacity: 1,200 passengers per hour


8:30 a.m. Tuesday: Sugarloaf's main mountain lifts open. The Spillway East chairlift is closed on a wind hold, along with several other lifts.

9:55 a.m.: Spillway East is opened after winds decrease and the lift is evaluated by the Ski Patrol director and a chairlift mechanic.

10:23 a.m.: Two chairlift mechanics are sent to Tower 8 after a ski patroller reports that the cable appears to be running toward the outside of the rubber liners of the wheels that support the cable.

10:30 a.m.: A mechanic arrives at Tower 8 and another arrives at the bottom terminal of Spillway East. Working together, they try to adjust the wheel. The lift is slowly started to allow the cable to settle back into the correct location, but still isn't settled correctly after two attempts. The mechanic on the tower determines that the lift should be closed. Soon after, workers slowly start the lift to off-load skiers, the cable derails at Tower 8, sending five chairs to the ground and many other skiers tumbling off the lift.

10:45 a.m.: Evacuation begins for skiers still on the lift. About 150 skiers are assisted, and about 54 people help with the evacuation.

12:14 p.m.: The final skier is taken off the lift.

Source: Sugarloaf Mountain Resort



CARRABASSETT VALLEY - Mechanics at the Sugarloaf Mountain Resort were trying to realign a chairlift cable Tuesday when it derailed and dropped five chairs carrying skiers into the snow 25 to 30 feet below, resort officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came as state inspectors ended their first full day investigating the accident, which sent eight people to hospitals and stranded dozens of skiers on the Spillway East lift for as long as an hour and 44 minutes.

"Our two primary concerns right now are for the rapid recovery of those injured yesterday and the safety of all Sugarloaf guests," Ethan Austin, the resort's spokesman, said Wednesday. "We're incredibly grateful for the help offered by local and state agencies."

High winds contributed to the accident, according to inspectors from the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety, who weren't ruling out other reasons for the failure of the 35-year-old lift.

Just before the accident, 50-mph wind gusts were reported around Sugarloaf, following a storm that dumped 22 inches of snow on the mountain Sunday and Monday.

The lift was properly licensed and inspected for the 2010-11 ski season, said Doug Dunbar, spokesman for the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Inspectors are expected to issue a report when their investigation is complete.

On Wednesday, hordes of skiers and snowboarders were on the mountain, unfazed by the accident on the aging lift, which is at the top of Sugarloaf's list for planned improvements, possibly next summer.

"It's definitely tragic for the families involved, but skiing is a risky sport," said Jeremy Smith, 20, who lives in Cumberland. "People who are not up on the mountain don't understand. Skiers are so dedicated to the sport and their mountain."

The accident happened shortly after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Spillway East had been running for about a half-hour, according to a news release from Sugarloaf, which delayed starting the lift for two hours because of the wind.

Around 10:20 a.m., a ski patroller reported that on Tower 8, the lift's cable was running toward the outside of the rubber-lined wheels that support the cable. Two mechanics responded and tried to align the cable, stopping and starting the lift at least twice.

When their efforts failed, one of the mechanics "determined that it would be inappropriate to run the chair at normal operating speed and the lift should be closed," according to the news release. "Mechanics started the lift at a slow operating speed to begin off-loading the guests who were on the lift."

That's when the cable derailed. The mechanics immediately stopped the lift and locked it to prevent further movement, according to the news release.

Sugarloaf employees and emergency response workers began helping the injured. Around 10:45 a.m., they started removing skiers from the lift using ropes. The evacuation was finished by 12:14 p.m. About 54 people assisted in the evacuation and about 150 were taken off the lift.

Initially, seven people, including two children, were taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and one person was taken by helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland. Five of the people treated at Franklin were released, and two were taken to Maine Med by ambulance.

Sugarloaf and police officials wouldn't release the names of the injured people.

The lift remained out of commission Wednesday, with part of its cable and chairs still on the snow where they fell as state inspectors and Sugarloaf workers investigated.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

Spillway East Chairlift, Sugarloaf Mountain
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The Spillway East chairlift remains closed Wednesday – with part of its cable and chairs still on the snow where they fell – as state inspectors investigate Tuesday’s accident, which injured eight people.

Pat Wellenbach/The Associated Press

Spillway East Chairlift, Sugarloaf Mountain
click image to enlarge

The Spillway East chairlift is at the top of Sugarloaf’s list for planned improvements. The lift was properly licensed for the 2010-11 ski season.

Pat Wellenbach/The Associated Press


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