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

(Continued from page 1)

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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


Many skiers and snowboarders said they would have been on Spillway East on Wednesday if it had been running because it reaches some of the mountain's best terrain.

"Oh yeah, I'd be right back on it," said James Andersen, 23, of Putnam, N.Y.

Ben Irish, 13, of Scarborough and his uncle, Erik Irish of North Yarmouth, peered at the fallen chairs without lasting concern.

"It's a little scary, but I've skied here all my life," Erik Irish said. "I've ridden that chairlift many times. I think the mountain will get it fixed, open it back up and have it safe to ride."

The accident has drawn international attention in part because Robb Atkinson, senior director of sales and affiliate relations for CNN, was on the lift when it derailed and reported the event on live television.

Austin, Sugarloaf's spokesman, sorted through dozens of voice messages Wednesday from media around the world.

"The world has gotten word: Canada, England, Japan. I've never had my phone ring like this," he said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted 791-6328 or at:

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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
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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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