Following a major ski lift malfunction at Sugarloaf in Maine, a series of precautionary state safety checks of Vermont resorts with similar lifts raised concern over one of those lifts, New England Cable News has learned. Suicide Six in South Pomfret, Vermont has a Borvig lift that closely resembles the Sugarloaf one in design, operators said Monday.
The Suicide Six lift was the subject of an inspection by the Passenger Tramway Division of the Vermont Labor Department last week, director Steve Monahan told necn.
Monahan said the inspection process led to the state strongly recommending an extra emergency stopping mechanism to prevent the type of rollback Sugarloaf experienced.
"In Vermont, we are on top of these things," Monahan said. "And the ski areas are very amenable to that. They want to keep Vermont's reputation good and have the skiing public have a safe, good time at the ski area"
Earlier this month, the King Pine Lift at Sugarloaf suddenly stopped and went in reverse more than 400 feet. Some panicked skiers jumped from the moving lift. Seven people were injured, with three requiring hospitalization.
The accident is being investigated by engineers from Sugarloaf and its operator, Boyne Resorts, along with other industry officials and a state inspector, the Associated Press reported. Sugarloaf replaced the faulty component on six similar chairlifts on Wednesday and Thursday, the AP wrote.
The King Pine lift will remain offline while the investigation continues.
The Sugarloaf accident, the second in five years that injured skiers, began with a fractured drive shaft in a gearbox. That led to the failure of the lift's primary brakes. An emergency brake eventually brought the King Pine quad lift to a stop after it moved more than 400 feet in reverse.
Partek Ski Lifts, based in Pine Island, New York, advised ski resort operators using Borvig and Partek chairlifts to perform safety checks and to pay close attention to an electrical switch believed to have played a role in the accident at Sugarloaf.
The National Ski Areas Association believes about 170 Borvig and Partek lifts could be affected, according to the AP. There are 3,500 ski lifts in the U.S.
Courtney Lowe, the director of sales and marketing for the Woodstock Inn & Resort, which owns Suicide Six, said the small mountain was planning upgrades to its Borvig lift even before the inspection revealed concerns over the needed rollback stopper.
Lowe said Suicide Six will install the mechanism this summer, following the state’s strong recommendations.
"Especially if it's safety, it's a priority," Lowe told necn. "It's unfortunate what happened at the other ski area. I think all of us always have to re-look at equipment once something like that happens to make sure that we comply with what needs to be done to make skiing safe."
There are two other Vermont ski areas that have types of Borvig lifts that are similar to the Sugarloaf incident, according to the Vermont Tramway Division. Mt. Snow and Stratton each have one similar lift, Monahan said. He added those lifts were also inspected last week, and both passed the precautionary checks. Monahan noted those resorts had already installed additional rollback stoppers.
The National Ski Areas Association said the industry swiftly spread preliminary findings from Sugarloaf to regulators and operators across the country, aiming to avoid a repeat of the problem elsewhere and to reassure the public about the safe operation of ski lifts.