- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A chairlift company warned ski resort operators Thursday to check for potential problems after engineers announced that a design flaw likely contributed to an accident that injured seven skiers at Sugarloaf.

Partek Ski Lifts, based in Pine Island, New York, issued a bulletin that advised ski resort operators using Borvig and Partek chairlifts to perform safety checks and to focus in particular on an electrical switch that’s believed to have played a role in the Sugarloaf accident in western Maine.

The National Ski Areas Association believes about 170 lifts could be affected by the design issue. There are about 3,500 lifts in use nationwide.

The bulletin urged daily safety checks, regardless of the switch’s manufacturer. But it didn’t mandate that any chairlifts be taken out of service.

Engineers believe a design flaw that utilized the wrong type of electrical switch for the application prevented a safety system from locking a 27-year-old Borvig chairlift in place after a mechanical failure caused it to begin moving in reverse last weekend in Carrabassett Valley.

David Byrd from the National Ski Areas Association said the swift action a day after the potential design flaw was identified shows that systems designed to protect skiers are working.

“The manufacturer, the state regulators and the ski area operators are taking a serious look at this and the public should be reassured about the safety and operation of chairlifts,” he said.

A Partek official didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Sugarloaf accident - the second in five years at the state’s tallest ski mountain - began with a fractured drive shaft in a gearbox that led to the failure of the lift’s primary brakes. An emergency brake brought the King Pine quad lift to a stop after it moved more than 400 feet in reverse.

The system that failed because of the faulty switch is akin to putting a stick in the spokes of a spinning bicycle wheel and should’ve deployed automatically, officials said.

The incident is being investigated by engineers from Sugarloaf and its operator, Boyne Resorts, along with other industry officials and a state inspector.

Sugarloaf replaced the faulty component on all six similar chairlifts on Wednesday and Thursday. The King Pine lift will remain offline indefinitely.


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