Thursday, April 24, 2014
CARRABASSETT VALLEY - For devoted Sugarloafers, who spend every winter weekend here, the cable derailment of a chairlift last week has not affected their attachment to Maine's second-highest mountain.
Lynn and Steve Harder of Falmouth, with their daughter, Reese, 2, and 4-month-old son, Ryan, say last week's derailment of a chairlift at Sugarloaf won't keep them away. "We're still all going to pile into the car and come up here," Lynn Harder said.
Tom Bell/Staff Writer
Anita Sebastian of Sherborn, Mass., hugs Steve Pierce, a Carrabassett Valley selectman, at the Bag & Kettle Brew Pub at the base of Sugarloaf. "We all know each other," she said.
Tom Bell/Staff Writer
"It won't change a thing," said Lynn Harder of Falmouth, who was at the mountain on New Year's Day with her husband and two young children. "We're still all going to pile into the car and come up here."
Her sentiment was shared by other longtime Sugarloafers clustered at the bar of the Bag & Kettle Brew Pub at the base of the mountain.
News of the accident may have spread around the globe, but those at the bar didn't see it as a big story. Most were supportive of the resort's management and defended the mountain's safety record.
"Given the mountain's long history, it's a blip," said Linda Lupton of Wiscasset, a Sugarloafer since 1969. "None of us are going to stop skiing here. This mountain is safe."
In a display of solidarity with the resort, several of the mountain's regulars have sent e-mails to resort management asking that they be seated on the first chair of the Spillway East chairlift when it reopens. Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin said resort officials still have no idea when that will be.
Last Tuesday, part of the 35-year-old chairlift derailed, sending skiers plummeting 25 to 30 feet.
At least eight people, including three children, were taken to hospitals after the double-chair lift derailed. Dozens of skiers remained on the crippled lift for more than an hour until patrols could get them down. As of Friday, all skiers known to be injured had been released from various hospitals.
Since the accident, the resort has received some criticism for its maintenance record.
One ski safety expert questioned the wisdom of restarting the lift with skiers aboard once the cable began tracking outside the guidance system. He also noted that safety inspections have highlighted an unusually large number of problems with the resort's older lifts.
Those problems were resolved before Sugarloaf received its 2010 and 2011 licenses, however, according to a spokesman for the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety.
The resort -- among the largest and most remote in the East -- is known for its extremely loyal customer base.
It has more than 23,000 fans on Facebook, far more than any other Eastern resort. The mountain's steep slopes attract expert skiers. Moreover, the distance from metropolitan areas and $77 full-day lift ticket keep many casual skiers away -- leaving the experienced skiers more of the mountain for themselves.
Many Sugarloafers see themselves as the sport's elite. They are purists, drawn to the mountain's challenging terrain rather than to off-mountain activities.
The resort has worked to cultivate that organic loyalty and sense of community, said Austin, the resort's spokesman.
Since the accident, the resort has tried to be as open as possible about the situation on its website, postings on social media sites and its weekly newsletter, which is sent to more than 30,000 people.
"There is a unique vibe up here," he said. "It's a close-knit community. People are very dedicated to the mountain and very loyal."
That community was evident Saturday at the brew pub, where Carrabassett Valley Selectman Steve Pierce was working his way through the bar crowd collecting pledges for a fundraiser to fight cancer.
Just about everyone in the bar greeted him as a friend because they've been coming to the mountain every winter weekend for years. The pledges came easy.
Anita Sebastian, 50, of Sherborn, Mass., greeted Pierce with a hug simply because she hadn't seen him for a week. Sebastian and her husband drive four-and-a-half hours every weekend to come here.
"We all know each other and all our families," she said.
While most Sugarloafers remain supportive, there are some who say the incident shows a need to invest more money to upgrade outdated equipment before another accident happens.
"It's a wake-up call," said Alan Battistelli, 54, who has come to the mountain from Rockport, Mass., every winter weekend for 20 years. "If this embarrassment means we end up with a new lift, that's a good thing."
Still, the accident has not affected his commitment to the mountain, he said, adding that he would climb aboard the Spillway East chairlift today if it were opened.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: