Sunday River Delays Spruce Replacement Until 2017

Things were looking up Aug. 18th, when Sunday River proclaimed “Make Spruce Great Again,” announcing a brand new Spruce Peak triple would be installed as soon as possible to replace the Borvig triple that was heavily damaged in a July foundation failure.  I was optimistic that the announced $2.1 million Doppelmayr triple could be built this fall and open sometime after Christmas.  Unfortunately, yesterday Sunday River revealed that a new lift will not be built until at least next summer, leaving the top portion of Spruce Peak without lift service for the coming winter.

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A number of factors led to the setback.  Doppelmayr already had a busy construction season building 17 lifts in the US and Canada this year.  The old lift could not be torn down until the accident could be investigated and MountainGuard could complete its claims process.  Complicating things further, CNL Lifestyle Properties wants out of the ski business, has listed Sunday River for sale and is unlikely to want to invest in capital improvements.  In a letter to pass holders, Sunday River said engineering for the new lift is complete and manufacturing could begin soon but, “decisions from our insurance carrier and commitment from our financial partners” are holding things up.  As NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com reported this weekend, the old Spruce lift is still standing two and a half months after the incident, minus the last tower and top terminal that fell over.

In addition to Spruce, Sunday River will replace the top terminal of the Locke Mountain triple which is of similar design.  The upper portion of Locke Mountain typically opens around Halloween with the first lift-served skiing in the East.  Unfortunately the terminal replacement project means that Locke Mountain will not open until at least Thanksgiving. Instead, Sunday River will attempt to open the much longer Aurora quad as soon as possible.  Even though there will be no lift to the summit of Spruce Peak this year, the trails will remain open for those want to hike and may even get snowmaking and grooming.  Chairs have been removed from the Locke Mountain triple in preparation for the new terminal installation.  A contractor (likely SkyTrans of nearby Contoocook, New Hampshire) will remove the Spruce equipment before the start of the season so it is not a hazard to skiers.

While these developments are disappointing, Sunday River’s release notes, “We remain committed to a new Spruce Peak Triple and will keep you updated on when construction for this new lift will start.”  As the saying goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and Boyne Resorts cannot risk another Borvig lift failure in Maine.

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Sunday River Lift Severely Damaged as Terminal Falls

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A Borvig return bullwheel lies in ruin Tuesday after a strange series of events in Western Maine over the weekend. Photo Credit: Sunday River

A truly bizarre incident came to light tonight when Sunday River revealed the top terminal of its Spruce Peak Triple chairlift slid downhill and flipped on its side over the weekend. Scott Crowell, the resort’s lift maintenance manager discovered the damage on Sunday. From the pictures, it appears the foundation and return bullwheel moved together, with the tension of the lift and gravity sending the line to the ground. Thankfully, the lift does not operate in the summer and no one was injured.

According to Weather Underground, Bethel, Maine received nearly an inch of rain in the four days leading up to the discovery of the damage.  Sunday River said the lift in question was last load tested in Fall 2015.

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Photo Credit: Sunday River

Spruce Peak is one of two Borvig triples remaining at Sunday River and its second oldest lift, built in 1986.  Chairkit added a loading carpet at the bottom station in 2014.  Spruce is 4,382 feet long and rises 1,211 feet with 17 towers and 177 chairs.  In a statement, Sunday River noted, “Decisions on repairing or replacing the lift have not been made at this point and will depend on several factors, including the results of the investigation. The resort is committed to moving forward as quickly as possible.”  The mountain is working with its insurance company, Willis MountainGuard, and state investigators.  Presumably there is still time to get a brand new lift built in time for the coming 2016-2017 winter season if the order is placed soon.  Alternatively, a lift manufacturer could come in and replace just the top terminal and any damaged chairs. Continue reading