Inspecting Maine’s Mountains: Ski Lift Safety

STATEWIDE (WGME) -- With only 17 ski areas in the state of Maine, Vacationland doesn’t top the list as a go-to state for the recreational sport.

However, the state found itself atop a list that has at least one mountain making changes.

In a Fall of 2016, the National Ski Area Association released a Ski Lift Safety Fact sheet.

Part of the report found that there has been six lift malfunctions resulting in injury in the last decade. According to the NSAA report, of the six malfunctions that resulted in injury, two took place at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley.

We visited Sugarloaf and Camden Snow Bowl ski areas, to see the process involved with inspecting the safety of ski lifts. Despite the variation in ski lifts (Sugarloaf has 13 lifts, and the Snow Bowl has 3), Camden’s Mountain Manager Tom Beauregard says the process is the same.

“I mean they’re all lifts, so we have to treat them the same,” says Beauregard.

“Just because we’re a small mountain we’re not going to neglect our services.”

The state of Maine adopted its rules from the NSAA’s rulebook known as ANSI-B77. It was drafted at its headquarters in Colorado, but state enforcement is tucked away in Gardiner led by the Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety. But commissioner Anne Head says inspections aren’t only performed by the state.

“We don’t have enough state employees to do all of the inspections,” said Commissioner Head.

Inspections are performed on three levels. By the two state inspectors, by privately-owned inspection companies contracted by a mountain’s insurance company, and by the mountain’s staff. While the staff will perform daily checkups, the state and insurance companies complete two broad inspections each year.

“I can guarantee you that it won’t escape the review of the three components,” said Commissioner Head.

Camden Mountain Manager Beauregard showed us the steps of each inspection. They cover each clip and grip that hold up a chair lift, and involve removing a fifth of a lift’s chairs each year for weight and weather testing. According to a 2016 inspection report, Camden made all the required updates to its lift to meet state standards for operation before the start of ski and snowboard season. Beauregard says it’s not a process where corners are cut.

“Not when it comes to people hanging in the air, no way,” said Beauregard. “I mean you’re responsible for all that stuff, and I’m not going to short change it, no way.”

In 2015, a chairlift malfunction on Sugarloaf’s King Pine lift injured 7 people. As of October of 2016, Sugarloaf is the only mountain to appear on the NSAA’s list of lift malfunctions resulting in injuries twice.

According to Director of Marketing Ethan Austin, it led to changes in its lift division

“One of the biggest things was staffing,” said Austin. “Making sure that we’re doing everything we can even above and beyond what’s specified for the lift to make sure that they’re operating.”

The mountain says that more than a million dollars were spent in upgrades to go along with an increase in staffing for its lifts following the incident at King PIne. In a October of 2016 inspection report of the mountain, all required updates were completed by the mountain before the start of ski season.

“That’s one of the ways we’re able to keep lifts up to the standards,” said Sugarloaf manager Brent Larson. “Testing them annually, testing the parts annually, and then upgrading and replacing the parts as they go and as they wear.”

A process monitored by the state of Maine, mountain staff, and insurance providers multiple times a year.

“The system that we have works really well,” said Commissioner Anne Head.“People in Maine seem to be very confident in the safety of what they go and enjoy every weekend in the winter.”

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