Maine ski lift that malfunctioned had passed last inspection

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) An inspection last fall found no problems that foreshadowed a mechanical malfunction at Sugarloaf that allowed a chairlift to begin moving in reverse, injuring seven skiers at the state’s tallest ski mountain.

The Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety required the replacement of a hydraulic pump, repair of the two-way voice communication system and servicing of an auxiliary power unit. All repairs were completed, and the lift passed inspection.

Investigators believe malfunctioning gears became uncoupled Saturday, disabling two brake systems and allowing it to move in reverse.

A lift attendant manually activated an emergency brake that stopped the 27-year-old quad lift even though a last-resort system that’s akin to putting a stick in the spokes of a spinning bicycle wheel failed to activate as it was supposed to, officials said.

Officials were reaching out to all the 200-plus skiers who were on the lift to check on their welfare and to assure them the resort takes safety seriously.

The mishap came just days before top skiers, including Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, were to arrive for the national alpine championships at Sugarloaf.

Ethan Austin, the resort’s director of marketing, said he can understand how skiers will have questions about safety. Lifts have malfunctioned twice in the last five years, injuring more than a dozen people. The last incident involved a 35-year-old double chairlift in 2010.

The resort will conduct a thorough and open investigation of what happened Saturday, Austin said.