Sugarloaf Lift Hiccup Caused by Gearbox Failure

Seven people injured

A skier shared this photo of the lift shortly after the accident, while he awaited rescue. (Hank Margolis/Twitter)

After the King Pine lift at Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain Resort malfunctioned on Saturday, rolling backwards and injuring seven people, investigators determined that the incident was due to a “major mechanical failure” in one of the lift’s gearboxes, according to a statement from the resort. The gearbox had passed a routine maintenance inspection just a day before.

The statement says that the gearbox connects the lift’s electric motor to the drive bullwheel—the large metal wheel around which the lift cable is wrapped to provide tension. When the gearbox failed, it separated the bullwheel from the lift’s primary brake and the anti-reverse brake. The final brake, called a drop dog (essentially a large metal pin that drops into the bullwheel to keep it from rotating), also failed to engage. A lift attendant applied the emergency brake and brought the lift to a stop, but not before the chair rolled back about 450 feet, the AP reports.

“It was really scary,” Falmouth resident David Segre told the AP. He was standing in the lift line when the malfunction happened. “It was like a gear had let loose, and it was slowly picking up speed going the wrong way … As gravity works, they started to go faster and faster, and people were jumping off at the lower levels.”

Seven people were injured, and four were taken to the hospital, Sugarloaf director of marketing Ethan Austin told the AP. None of the injuries are believed to be life threatening. Ski patrollers helped about 200 people down from the lift, according to ABC News.

“The cause of the gearbox failure and the failure of the drop dog to deploy as designed both remain under investigation,” Austin said in Sugarloaf’s statement. “It is likely that determining the root cause of these failures will require extensive analysis.”

The investigation is ongoing, and the lift remains closed.

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