Yesterday Sugarloaf Mountain Resort, the site of two of the worst lift accidents in recent memory, announced $1.3 million in lift safety upgrades including a new Doppelmayr drive terminal for the lift that rolled back in March. The mountain will also launch a new website devoted solely to lift safety and maintenance with a tip line for anyone to submit questions and concerns about lifts. All of this is moving forward despite Sugarloaf’s looming sale.
In December 2010, the Spillway East double, built by Borvig in 1975, experienced a de-ropement that caused numerous chairs to hit the ground and drag approximately 40 feet. Eight skiers were injured and the last legal claim was settled just last week. The State of Maine’s investigation found inadequate maintenance records, poor training, high winds, and component failure as probable contributing factors. The full report is here. Spillway was replaced by a Doppelmayr quad the following summer and renamed Skyline.
The King Pine Quad, a 1988 Borvig, rolled-back approximately 460 feet on March 21, 2015, resulting in numerous injuries. Skiers went around the bottom bullwheel at high speed and many others jumped off. Sugarloaf’s internal investigation found that the drive bullwheel’s drop dog failed to deploy due to a faulty switch and the lift was eventually stopped by an operator who manually activated the lift’s emergency brake. The state has not yet released its investigation into this incident. King Pine and its sister quad called Timberline were both closed for the remainder of last season.
Fast forward to yesterday’s announcement. King Pine will receive a new Doppelmayr Tristar drive-tension terminal, the same type as the Skyline lift. The rest of the lift will be retained although some of the mangled chairs that rolled back will have to be repaired or replaced. This will cost $800,000 and be completed by December. Sugarloaf will spend another $500,000 to upgrade six other Borvig and Stadeli lifts. Timberline, West Mountain, Skidway, Sawduster and Snubber will get electrical upgrades, new braking systems and new anti-rollback devices. The gearbox on Timberline, the sister lift to King Pine, will also get rebuilt. The only Borvig lifts not set to be upgraded are Double Runner East and West, installed in 1973 and 1974.
Perhaps the most significant part of this announcement is the launch of a dedicated lift safety website for consumers. Sugarloaf’s back-to-back, high profile lift accidents are a big marketing challenge. The new website will have information about all of Sugarloaf’s lifts, updates on maintenance projects and an online form where anyone can submit questions or concerns about lifts. Sugarloaf’s new general manager, Karl Strand, explained, “We’re strongly committed to lift safety, and part of that is being open and thorough with our communication about that topic. Our hope is that this website will be a conduit for that information, and provide a direct line of communication for our guests.” I think the website is a great idea and hopefully other ski areas will follow suit, not just after a major accident. I look forward to seeing the new site when it launches in July.