Last Tuesday at Sugarloaf Mountain, part of a 35-year-old chairlift derailed, sending skiers plummeting 25 to 30 feet. At least eight people, including three children, were injured and taken to local hospitals when a line on the chairlift at the Sugarloaf ski area derailed. Dozens of skiers remained on the crippled lift for more than an hour until ski patrol could get them down. The resort said none of the injuries were life-threatening.
The Spillway East chairlift is 4,013 feet long. It was installed in 1975 and modified in 1983. It moves at a speed of 500 feet per minute, and the chairs are 50 feet apart.
Investigators are reportedly looking at wind as a possible cause of the accident on the Spillway lift, given that there were 40-mph gusts at the time. The lift had been closed earlier in the day because of the high winds but reopened half an hour before the accident. Witnesses also said a worker appeared to be in the middle of repairing part of the lift tower at the time of the accident, which a spokesman for Sugarloaf could not confirm.
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. But according to the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety, the regulatory agency responsible for oversight of tramways in the state, those problems were resolved before Sugarloaf received its 2010 and 2011 licenses. Inspectors from the Maine Tramway Board are investigating.