Case Studies - Sugarloaf USA Chairlift Deropement

The Incident

Sugarloaf experienced winds immediately following the major snowstorm which dropped 22" of snow on the resort on Monday December 27th, 2010. As a result, several lifts at the resort, including the Spillway East chairlift, were placed on wind hold at the start of operations Tuesday. Winds diminished as the morning progressed, and Spillway East was evaluated by the ski patrol director of Sugarloaf Mountain and a chairlift mechanic. That evaluation included towers, top and bottom terminals, and the completion of Sugarloaf's standard safety checks. The chairlift was opened to the public at 9:55 a.m.

At 10:23 AM, the Lift Operations Department received a maintenance request for Tower 8 from a Sugarloaf ski patroller. Two chairlift mechanics were dispatched at that time. The chairlift cable was observed to be running toward the outside of the rubber liners of the sheave train (the wheels on which the cable is supported) on Tower 8.

At 10:30 AM, one lift mechanic arrived at Tower 8 and another arrived at the bottom terminal of Spillway East. Working in tandem, the mechanic at the bottom terminal of Spillway East communicated with the mechanic on Tower 8 while he made an adjustment to the sheave train per Sugarloaf's operating and maintenance procedures. The lift was slowly started to enable the cable to settle back into the correct location on the sheaves.

The realignment effort was unsuccessful. The mechanics repeated the procedure, again unsuccessfully. The mechanic on Tower 8 determined that it would be inappropriate to run the chair at normal operating speed and the lift should be closed. Mechanics started the lift at a slow operating speed to begin off-loading the guests who were on the lift.

Shortly after starting the lift at reduced speed, the lift cable deroped from Tower 8, leaving the cable suspended between Tower 9 and Tower 7. Lacking the support of the sheave wheels on Tower 8, five chairs struck the snow below. When the deropement occurred, the mechanic on Tower 8 immediately notified the mechanic at the bottom terminal of Spillway East about the deropement. The lift was immediately stopped and locked out from further movement.

The Response

Ski patrol was immediately notified of the deropement, and lift evacuation procedures began at 10:45 am. At 12:14pm all guests had been evacuated from the lift. Sugarloaf ski patrol estimates that 150 people were evacuated.

Members from ski patrol, grooming department, snowmaking department, resort ambassadors, lift maintenance personnel and the Carrabassett Valley Fire Department responded to the scene. In total, 54 people contributed to the evacuation of the lift.

Six people were treated for injuries and sent to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, Maine. A seventh and eighth victims were initially cleared to leave the scene, but were later admitted to Franklin Memorial Hospital. Three patients were transported from Franklin Memorial Hospital to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Inspectors from the State of Maine Board of Elevators and Tramways were immediately summoned to assist mountain operations personnel and representatives from Sugarloaf with evaluation of the incident.


How Could FirstNet Help?

Although the outcome of the patient injuries was generally favorable (no fatalities, no life-threatening injuries), the accident scene was chaotic, made more so by the real-time broadcast of the event on CNN; one of the skiers awaiting evacuation from the Spillway lift was a news reporter who was broadcasting live from his cellphone, utilizing the minimal cell signals available for communication.

Had a FirstNet network been available, communication between and among EMS, Fire, Police, and Ski Patrol would have taken priority over the scarce LTE network, enabling better coordination of vital resources.

EMS could have received photos from Ski Patrol with patient triage information, knowledge of AED and trama pack locations as well the location of blankets. EMS could see the best approach route to reach the injured, and could transmit vital information to their Life Flight partners and determine which hospitals are best equipped to handle the variety of injuries. Vital information on the most seriously injured patients could have been sent to those trauma centers in advance of the patient arriving via LifeFlight or ambulance.

The Fire Department could have streamed videos of lifts on their MDT, reviewed maps, and analyzed lift tower info to determine the right equipment to transport to scene.

The Ski patrol could have utilized the FirstNet network to transmit lift kill-switch locations and a detailed map of all the slopes to determine the best egress points, and alternate detour routes. They could also have communicated vital medical information on triaged patients, alerted responders to the closest toboggans for transport, and monitored the changing weather conditions.

The local Public Works Department, working with Mountain Operations, could have also utilized the map, and provided assistance with the monitoring of the electricity and diesel on the scene.