Carrabassett Valley, Maine A 35-year-old chair lift due to be replaced failed Tuesday in high winds at a Maine resort, sending skiers — some of them children — plummeting into ungroomed snow far below that fell with the Northeast’s recent blizzard and softened the landing. At least eight were injured.
Five adults and three children were taken to hospitals after the double-chair lift at Sugarloaf derailed during a busy vacation week at the resort 120 miles north of Portland. Dozens of skiers remained on the crippled lift for more than an hour until the ski patrol could get them down.
It’s unclear whether the accident was wind-related or mechanical, officials said. The ski resort was being buffeted by winds gusting up to 40 mph a day after the blizzard blew through. A witness said he saw someone working on the lift before the derailment.
The resort said the lift, which recently passed an inspection, was due to be replaced — possibly as early as this coming summer — partly because of vulnerability to wind. Five chairs fell 25 to 30 feet onto a ski trail below, Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin said.
Rebecca London, one of the skiers who tumbled to the snow, told The Associated Press that her face hit a retaining bar but her goggles spared her from serious injury. She credited new snow underneath the lift with a soft landing; the resort said it got 20 to 22 inches in Monday’s storm.
“Thankfully, they didn’t groom it last night, so they left it like it was,” London said. “So the snow was all soft.”
Most of the skiers who fell appeared to be stunned but OK, she said, and the ski patrol was on the scene within minutes to treat the injured. London, 20, of Carrabassett Valley, said she wasn’t hurt badly enough to go to a hospital.
Jay Marshall, who was on a lift that was parallel to the one that broke, said his lift was moving but the other was not. There was a “loud snapping noise” after the lift restarted, he said, then some screams.
“The next thing I know, it was bouncing up and down like a yo-yo,” said Marshall, of Carrabassett Valley. He said it was too difficult to watch, so he looked away. “It was terrifying,” he said.
Marshall said there was a worker atop the tower where the lift’s cable derailed but noted that could have been a coincidence. It’s not uncommon to see workers on the lift towers, he said.
All told, there were about 150 skiers on the lift at the time, according to Sugarloaf, operated by Boyne Falls, Mich.-based Boyne Resorts. Sugarloaf workers used a pulley-like system to lower skiers to safety.