- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine | A 35-year-old chairlift set for upgrades or replacement failed Tuesday at a popular Maine ski resort, sending skiers plummeting up to 30 feet, though they fell into “ungroomed” snow from the Northeast’s recent blizzard, which softened the landing.

Franklin Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Jill Gray said eight people were taken to her hospital from the Sugarloaf Resort in Carrabassett Valley, about 120 miles north of Portland.

Ms. Gray wouldn’t comment on the patients’ conditions, but said they included children and adults. One person was transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland. The resort’s ski patrol evacuated the lift after people had fallen from five chairs.

The resort said the lift, which went into service in 1975 and recently passed an inspection, was set for improvements but wouldn’t say when.

Rebecca London, one of the skiers who tumbled into the snow, told the Associated Press that her face hit a retaining bar, but that her goggles spared her from serious injury. She credited new snow on the trail 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,” she 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.

Ms. London, 20, of Carrabassett Valley, said she wasn’t hurt badly enough to go to a hospital.

Jay Marshall, a ski coach hunkered down in a cold wind while on a lift next to the broken one, said that his lift was moving, but that the broken one 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 Mr. Marshall, of Carrabassett Valley. He said it was too difficult to watch, so he looked away.

“It was terrifying,” he said.

There were 50 to 160 people on the lift at the time, according to Sugarloaf, owned by Michigan-based Boyne Resorts. Sugarloaf workers used a pulley-like system to lower skiers to safety.

At the time of the accident, high winds were buffeting Maine a day after a blizzard swept across the region. Sugarloaf said the wind was gusting to about 40 mph, but it’s unclear whether the accident was wind-related or mechanical.

The spillway chairlift was properly licensed and inspected, said Doug Dunbar of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The East Spillway double chairlift is 4,013 feet long and nearly reaches the summit of 4,327-foot Sugarloaf, the state’s second-tallest mountain. It went into service in 1975 and was modified in 1983, according to Sugarloaf officials.



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