Sugarloaf accident: A skier’s worst nightmare

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 29, 2010, at 1:58 p.m.

As an occasional skier who spends most of his on-mountain time at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, Tuesday’s chair lift derailment at the resort resonated deeply.

I have spent time on the Spillway chair — most “Sugarloafers” have, I’d bet — and I’ve suffered through some cold, wind-blown trips up the mountain on that 1970s-era lift.

During those minutes, I’ve often looked down at the steep, sometimes rocky terrain, and thought something like this: Man, if something bad happened, it’s a long way to the ground from up here.

Investigators: High wind primary factor in Sugarloaf crash
High wind was a primary factor in a chair lift collapse at a Maine ski area that sent skiers plummeting 25 to 30 feet, injuring eight and trapping others for more than an hour, the resort said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, something bad did happen. Five chairs crashed to the ground. Eight people were injured. Luckily, no one died.

In talking with fellow skiers yesterday — some of whom spend dozens of days a year on Sugarloaf and other mountains — I learned that others share my fear.

Others ride lifts, look down, and think, What if?

Fortunately, most of us never will have to find out the answer to that question.

Ski lifts are frequently inspected and often shut down because of weather conditions. Skiers obviously don’t want a lift to fail. Equally obvious: Resort owners and managers don’t want that to happen, either.

On Tuesday, I spoke with a young snowboarder who rode Spillway the day before the accident.

Charlotte Kirk was in the base lodge, warming up, when she heard of the accident. The news of the derailment was shocking, and the 16-year-old Falmouth girl was busy answering cell phone calls from her father and brother, assuring them that she hadn’t been on the lift, and that she was fine.

The accident shocked her. She said she’d be a bit nervous the next time she rode Spillway. But the derailment didn’t affect her afternoon plans at all.

“I’m going back out as soon as they open the SuperQuad back up,” Kirk said.

Hundreds of other Sugarloafers did the same thing.

In Tuesday’s story about the accident, the BDN included a quote from Sugarloaf general manager John Diller, who announced during an August press conference that replacing the Spillway chair lift was the resort’s top priority.

Since including that quote in our story, I’ve read through the reader comments on the BDN website and learned that some have made a leap of logic that doesn’t apply here.

A few readers saw Diller’s quote as an admission that the Spillway chair wasn’t fit for operation, and that it should be shut down.

As the writer who included his quote in the story, I think a clarification is in order: Diller said no such thing.

Diller was celebrating a number of Sugarloaf projects that were on the drawing board. At the head of that list was the replacement of the slow, wind-plagued Spillway lift.

Essentially, what Diller said in August was this: Sugarloaf can do better. The resort can get more skiers to the top of the mountain in less time with a newer, faster lift. And the new lift will be heavier, so that crews don’t have to shut it down so often when the wind blows.

On Wednesday afternoon, state inspectors with the Department of Professional & Financial Regulation began their investigation into the accident. They are citing wind as a possible factor.

But assuming that Sugarloaf’s desire to replace a lift means officials also thought the lift was likely to fail is irresponsible at best, and borders on malicious.

Nationals head to Rumford

Some of the best Nordic skiers in the nation will head to Rumford late this week to prepare for the U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships.

Black Mountain in Rumford will host the event, which is expected to draw 500 athletes. Training starts on Saturday and competition kicks off with the classic sprint races on Sunday. The championships run through Jan. 8.

Black Mountain has hosted the nationals in the past, but thanks to an off-season community effort, the cross-country stadium has been expanded, allowing more space for spectators and athletes alike.

Berths in prestigious international events, including the World Junior Championships, will be up for grabs during the event.

Sunday’s qualifying races begin at 9 a.m. while championship heats start at 12:45 p.m.

Licenses on sale

If you’re planning on heading afield in the coming months and spending some time fishing or hunting, it’s time to make one of the most important preparations.

It’s time to buy a license.

Or two. Or three.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife has announced that 2011 fishing and hunting licenses are on sale. You can log on to www.mefishwildlife.com, take advantage of the nifty MOSES system, and buy all the licenses you’ll need.

If you’re an ice angler or troll the open water, your license awaits. And if you’re not going into the woods until deer season, you don’t have to wait until November: Those licenses are available, too.

Those who’ve used the MOSES system in the past will tell you that being able to purchase a license from your own home computer is a convenient feature.

So, too, is the ability to print out multiple copies of those licenses. One can go in your hunting jacket, another in your tackle box, another in your fly vest, another in your truck’s glove compartment (just in case).

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/12/29/outdoors/sugarloaf-accident-a-skiers-worst-nightmare/ printed on December 27, 2014