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Sugarloaf responds as swiftly as the wind

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What are the odds that a CNN reporter was on holiday riding the Spillway East chair at Sugarloaf last week when the cable derailed? 

Last week's lift accident at the Maine ski resort became national news within minutes, but the Sugarloaf rescue crew was even swifter in its response and care for the eight injured skiers in fallen chairs.

If that's ironic, then Sugarloaf's lift evacuation training drill on Nov. 7 was certainly fortuitous. Lifts are inspected annually by an independent inspector and daily by lift ops. But resorts do not routinely perform full evacuation training. Many skiers have commented in the aftermath of the Dec. 28 lift accident that the prompt and professional response of Sugarloaf's safety patrol and entire staff was extraordinary. The State of Maine Board of Elevators and Tramways inspectors believe high winds, up to 45 mph, were a contributing factor. If you have skied Sugarloaf, you know it can be blustery.

I can think of only two lift accidents in New England over the past two decades, most recently being in 2004 at Big Squaw in Maine. Skiers should remember that chairlifts carry thousands of skiers a day safely; Sugarloaf's uphill capacity is 21,805 skiers and riders per hour in optimum operation. The ski industry is extremely safety-conscious; their success relies upon skiers and riders having a safe experience both on the ascent and descent.

I could have been on that chairlift with my daughter, and I still hold firmly that you are safer on the ski slopes, both riding up and down, than you are commuting to the mountains on our heavily-traveled roads. I hope this accident doesn't dissuade skiers from enjoying the snow-covered mountains and their scenic lift rides as well.

Another fallout from the cable derailment is a new Facebook group "Dear Boyne, Please send new lifts. Love, Sugarloaf." Rest assured Loafers, replacing the 1975 vintage Spillway and its 4,013-foot long fixed grip double chair is already No. 1 on Boyne's priority list.

Photo by Greg Burke For more of Heather's family ski tips go to www.familyskitrips.com

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