CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine - A 35-year-old chair lift set for upgrades or replacement failed Tuesday at one of Maine's most popular ski resorts, sending skiers plummeting into ungroomed snow far below that fell with the Northeast's recent blizzard and softened the landing.
The Sugarloaf resort in Carrabassett Valley, about 120 miles north of Portland, said that at least eight people - some of them children - were taken to hospitals after five chairs fell. The resort's ski patrol evacuated the lift.
The resort said that the lift, which went into service in 1975 and recently passed an inspection, was set for improvements, but it wouldn't say when.
Rebecca London, one of the skiers who tumbled to the snow, said that her face hit a retaining bar but that her goggles spared her from serious injury. She credited new snow on the trail underneath the lift with a soft landing; the resort said it got 20 to 22 inches in Monday's storm.
"Thankfully, they didn't groom it last night, so they left it like it was," she said. "So the snow was all soft."
Most of the skiers who fell appeared to be stunned but OK, she said, and the ski patrol was on the scene within minutes to treat the injured. London, 20, of Carrabassett Valley, said she wasn't hurt badly enough to go to a hospital.
Jay Marshall, a ski coach hunkered down in a cold wind while on a lift next to the broken one, said that his lift was moving but that the broken one was not.
There was a "loud snapping noise" after the lift restarted, he said, then some screams.
"The next thing I know, it was bouncing up and down like a yo-yo," said Marshall, of Carrabassett Valley. He said that it was too difficult to watch, so he looked away. "It was terrifying," he said.
The injured were treated and taken to hospitals. There were 50 to 160 people on the lift at the time, according to Sugarloaf, owned by Michigan-based Boyne Resorts. Sugarloaf workers used a pulleylike system to lower skiers to safety.
At the time of the accident, high winds were buffeting Maine a day after a blizzard swept through.
Sugarloaf said the wind was gusting to about 40 m.p.h., but it's unclear whether the accident was wind-related or mechanical. The spillway chair lift was properly licensed and inspected, said Doug Dunbar of Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.