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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 probably softened the landing.
The Sugarloaf resort in Carrabassett Valley, about 120 miles north of Portland, said about six people were taken to hospitals after five chairs fell. The resort's ski patrol evacuated the lift.
The resort said the lift, which went into service in 1975 and recently passed an inspection, was set for improvements but wouldn't say when.
Rebecca London, one of the skiers who tumbled to the snow, told The Associated Press 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 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 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 pulley-like system to lower skiers to safety.
Jill Gray, a spokeswoman for Franklin Memorial Hospital about in Farmington, 45 miles away, said people were taken there but did not give details on the injures. At least one person was flown on to Maine Medical Center in Portland.
At the time of the accident, high winds were buffeting Maine a day after a blizzard swept across the region.
Sugarloaf said the wind was gusting to about 40 mph, 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.
The East Spillway double-chair lift is 4,013 feet long and nearly reaches the summit of 4,327-foot Sugarloaf, the state's second-tallest mountain. It went into service in 1975 and was modified in 1983, according to Sugarloaf officials.
Betsy Twombly of Falmouth said the resort notified season pass holders like herself that the lift would be the first to be replaced under a 10-year improvement plan.
Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin told reporters it was on a list of those to be improved but declined to say when that was due to happen.
This program aired on December 28, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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