Sugarloaf Mountain Resort has started taking down the 35-year-old chairlift that derailed in December, dropping five chairs 30 feet to the snow and injuring eight skiers.

The resort plans to replace the Spillway East lift this summer with a modern $3 million quad that would move more skiers up the mountain and be less susceptible to shutdowns because of high winds. The old Spillway was a double, which means it had two-person chairs, while the new one will be a quad with heavier, four-person chairs.

State inspectors, meanwhile, are still finalizing a long-awaited report on the cause of the Dec. 28 derailment.

A spokesman for the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety said the agency now expects to release the report by the end of the month. The agency’s chief inspector and a staff inspector “are spending as much time as they can on it while doing their other duties,” said Doug Dunbar of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, which oversees the safety board.

Sugarloaf had said that replacing Spillway East was a top priority even before the accident. Although the resort cited the lift’s age, it said the replacement was primarily needed to increase the capacity for moving skiers up the central part of the mountain.

Sugarloaf’s owner, CNL Lifestyle Properties, decided in February to make the investment this year.

Sugarloaf plans to have the new, yet-to-be-named lift in place and operating for the start of the next ski season in November, said Ethan Austin, spokesman for Sugarloaf.

Workers have so far taken down Spillway’s chairs and cables and will soon begin dismantling the terminals and towers, Austin said.

Sugarloaf staff worked closely with the state inspectors during the accident investigation and while repairing and testing the old chairlift. But Austin said Tuesday he did not know what the inspectors determined to be the accident causes.

“We’re just waiting for the report,” he said.

Some of the injured skiers and their lawyer also are eager to see the state’s findings.

“I’ve been waiting for the report to come out from the state and it keeps not coming out,” said Rick Tonge of Belgrade, who was riding the chairlift with his son, Andy Tonge, when they plunged to the snow.

Rick Tonge, who suffered muscle injuries, said he is not 100 percent recovered but felt well enough toward the end of the ski season to head back to Sugarloaf, where he has been skiing for 50 years. Tonge even rode up the mountain on Spillway East, although he paid close attention to the parts of the lift carrying the cable uphill.

“The wheels squeaked when I went over (the tower) and I said, ‘Oh geez,’ ” he said. “It was fine.”

Andy Tonge, who lives in Baltimore, spent three months in a back brace and physical therapy after suffering compression fractures in his spine.

Tonge took the brace off in late March. He said Tuesday that he is slowly resuming physical activity to rebuild his strength, although he is still feeling pain at times and getting therapy when needed.

“I definitely notice (the injury) in my activities,” he said. “I’m at the point where they want me to do gym exercises and get my strength back up.”

Andy Tonge said he doesn’t yet know if he will have physical limitations in the future. “They want to see what my progress is in the short term before we talk long term,” he said.

Benjamin Gideon, an attorney with Berman & Simmons in Lewiston who represents Rick and Andy Tonge, said he’s eager to get the state findings, although he doesn’t expect to be surprised.

Gideon said Sugarloaf allowed him and an independent expert to examine the old Spillway East lift a couple of weeks ago before workers began dismantling it. “I think we have a pretty good sense for what happened,” he said.

Gideon would not say what be believes caused the accident or what it means in terms of the resort’s liability.

“We like to wait for all of the facts and evidence to be available before making any final conclusions,” he said. “I’ve received letters from the mountain’s insurer and I’m optimistic that when the time comes, we’ll be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion without having to file a lawsuit.”

Gideon represents one other skier in addition to Rick and Andy Tonge. He had originally been contacted regarding six injured skiers, but three — a Delaware state senator and his two daughters — are not clients now, Gideon said. Michael Katz, the state senator, could not be reached Monday.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the high-profile accident had on business at Sugarloaf.

An ideal snow season helped boost skier traffic and revenue numbers above last year, said Austin. The resort remained open until early May, its second-latest closing in its history, he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]