The cable of the Spillway East Chair at Sugarloaf came off the wheels at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 28, whipping five two-passenger chairs up to 30 feet toward the slope below, with at least three of those chairs reaching the ground.

Resort spokesman Ethan Austin gave this account of the event:

"Sugarloaf experienced winds immediately following the major snowstorm which dropped 22" of snow on the resort this Monday (Dec. 27).  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 a.m., 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 a.m., 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. 

"Ski patrol was immediately notified of the deropement, and lift evacuation procedures began at 10:45 a.m.  At 12:14 p.m. 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."

OnTheSnow will continue to update the story as information becomes available.