January 4, 2011

Was the Sugarloaf 'accident' waiting to happen?

By BETH NEWLANDS CAMPBELL

(This story was originally published December 31, 2010)

click image to enlarge

Beth Newlands Campbell is shown at Sugarloaf on Thursday with her two daughters, Caleigh, 9, and Caroline, 12.

Photo by John Baldwin

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Here's a slightly different account of the chairlift "accident" at Sugarloaf from John Christie's.

I have never managed a ski resort or written for the newspaper. I write from the perspective of a mother of two who was there and saw the nightmare unfold.

I spent most of Tuesday morning suspended in a chairlift in frigid temperatures, wondering what was happening to my two little girls, ages 9 and 12, five chairs in front of me.

I was close enough to see the backs of their coats, but couldn't hold their hands (or mittens) and assure them that this is Sugarloaf, everything is going to be OK.

We are new to Sugarloaf, where we go to unplug, spend quality family time together and bask in the beautiful mountains -- skiing in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. That is not what we experienced Tuesday.

Boyne and Sugarloaf, you let us all down terribly.

My first thought was, and remains, seeing sled after sled carrying injured people down off the mountain.

We were very cold and shaken up, and my second-season skiers were almost ready to hang up their skis for good. Clearly, ours was a small problem compared with the injured skiers, some of whom will likely suffer lifelong complications from the "accident."

The one problem with being new to Sugarloaf is that I wasn't aware of the saying that it was a matter of "when" an accident would happen on that Spillway chair, not "if."

So my question is, was this really an "accident" or something that was clearly predictable?

Clearly, that warning is not printed on the back of my ski pass with all the other inherent risks of skiing. I get it, you assume the risk if you want to ski quickly or ski in the trees, but I didn't sign up for what we experienced.

My job as a parent of new Sugarloafers and skiers is to teach my kids to turn, look uphill for oncoming skiers and be respectful of other skiers. Skiing is inherently risky, but riding the chairlift on a typical Maine winter day during school vacation?

My hope is that Sugarloaf handles this in a manner that is fitting to the long, wonderful history that stands behind the iconic emblem of Sugarloaf. Buck up, take responsibility and fix the infrastructure before someone else gets hurt.

You may think you are in the ski business, but really you are in the business of trust. Don't let us Sugarloafers down.

I think John Diller has led Sugarloaf well, and my hope is that he will manage this in a way that will continue to make all of us proud.

I will assume that John Christie was not expressing the views of Sugarloaf or Boyne management in his column Wednesday in MaineToday Media's daily newspapers.

I know one family of Sugarloafers who will never be back on either of the Spillway chairlifts but will remain Sugarloafers, at least for now.

I would like to end with my incredible gratitude to all the first responders: the lift attendants, the rescue workers who got us down by rope, the Ski Patrol, ambulance drivers and everyone else who was involved, including the incredible Sugarloaf ambassadors and my friends who walked up part of the mountain to be under the chair where my kids sat perched in the air, wondering if the rest of the cable might break.

Thank you. You are what makes Sugarloaf so special. 

Beth Newlands Campbell of Cape Elizabeth is president of Hannaford Supermarkets.

 

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