Some thoughts on Sugarloaf’s lift incident

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I love the word incident, it’s so understated, so British (I was stuck on a train once in Scotland during a rail incident, actually a suicide attempt up the line that stopped all train traffic passing on that track, but I digress). Unless you’ve been off line and out of range of TV and radio, by now you know there was a lift accident at Sugarloaf resort this morning. Yes, that’s where I spend a good deal of my winter, and no I wasn’t there today. But I’ve followed reports and talked with friends who were there.

What happened: Short version, the Spillway chair derailed and six [updated to seven eight] people were injured after their chairs fell about 30 feet, more than 200 others were stranded on the lift and had to be evacuated.  The cause of the derailment hasn’t been determined.

Is it a story that merits worldwide attention: Not really, but when there’s a CNN reporter stranded on the lift and it’s the slowest news week of the year, well, it was inevitable that it went viral.

Have I talked with friends who were there: Yes, and most first heard about it from other friends who were calling them from distant places asking if they were okay. In other words, at the ‘loaf, the incident was under control.

Aren’t you understating it: No, this is a very serious issue. The lift derailment itself is a big problem; compounding it were the frigid temps and high winds. I’m very thankful that no one was killed or seriously maimed (one update two, make that three people were evacuated from Farmington’s Franklin Memorial Hospital to Maine Med., in Portland—two by ambulance, on via LifeFlight heli—but no updates yet on their conditions; five were treated and released from Franklin). But the rumors are egregious. (Someone actually called me to let me know that a gondola had dropped and there were dead bodies all over the mountain: Sugarloaf hasn’t had a gondola in ages, and no one was killed).

Isn’t that an old lift: Yes.

The Spillway East chair is A 2 passenger monocable fixed grip chair manufactured and installed by Borvig in 1975. This lift was modified in 1983. Spillway East is 4,013 feet long with a vertical of 1,454 feet. This chair moves at a speed of 500 feet per minute and the chairs are 50 feet apart. There are 162 chairs on this lift each weighing 140lbs. Spillway East has a 250 horsepower motor and has a capacity for 1,200 skiers per hour.

The chairlift receives routine daily inspections for safety.  Additionally, the chairlift receives weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance and testing.  The lift is also inspected annually for it’s safety from the State of Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety.

—Sugarloaf statement

Who do you trust for info: I’m reading  stories in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor News and augmenting that with updates from Sugarloaf’s media page and its Facebook page. I don’t expect much more info to be posted on the ‘loafs pages until a full inspection is done and a cause for the derailment is determined. I do expect reporters from the local papers to stay on top of the story and to provide updates when new info is uncovered.

Will you ski Sugarloaf: Only reason I wasn’t there today is because of vehicle troubles. I hope to be carving turns on the mountain later this week. Maybe I’ll see you there…

4 COMMENTS

  1. Glad to see you’re on this one, Hilary. You know there would be questions, and it’s good to see you addressing the issue before it gets out of hand. Too bad about the rumors. Injuries appear to be minimal, thank goodness. Scary, though.

  2. Good job Hilary. Yes, this is the slowest news week. If we didn’t have that blizzard we’d have nothing. This “incident” would have gone with a mere mention if the reporter weren’t on the scene – or on the lift.

    I used this in my column to support how non news this week actually is. I am a little perturbed that it would snowball into a “bodies all over the loaf” situation. Glad you’re on this.

  3. It would seem to me that Sugarloaf will probably be the safest place to ride a lift for the rest of the season. I am sure all the lifts have been double and triple triple checked since, both by resort staff and state inspectors. Obviously the accident is out of the norm and Sugarloaf mgmt will spare no effort to insure it won’t happen again this season. Or subsequent seasons.

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