The Partek Ski Lifts chairlift company warned ski resort operators last Thursday to check for potential problems after engineers announced that a design flaw likely contributed to an accident that injured seven skiers at Sugarloaf. Partek Ski Lifts, based in Pine Island, New York, issued a bulletin that advised ski resort operators using Borvig and Partek chairlifts to perform safety checks and to focus in particular on an electrical switch that’s believed to have failed in the Sugarloaf accident in western Maine.
The bulletin urged daily safety checks, regardless of the switch’s manufacturer. But the bulletin stops short of mandating that any chairlifts be taken out of service. The National Ski Areas Association estimates that about 170 lifts could be affected by the design issue. There are about 3,500 lifts in use nationwide.
Engineers suspect that the wrong type of electrical switch for the application prevented a safety system from locking a 27-year-old Borvig chairlift in place after a mechanical failure caused it to begin moving in reverse last weekend at Sugarloaf.
The Sugarloaf accident began with a fractured drive shaft in a gearbox that led to the failure of the lift’s primary brakes. An emergency brake brought the King Pine quad lift to a stop after it moved more than 400 feet in reverse. The system that failed because of the faulty switch is being investigated by engineers from Sugarloaf and its operator, Boyne Resorts, along with other industry officials and a state inspector.
Sugarloaf replaced the faulty component on all six similar chairlifts on Wednesday and Thursday. The King Pine lift will remain offline indefinitely.