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Safety Concerns Close Suicide Six Ski Lift



Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Pomfret — State regulators say they closed a ski lift at Suicide Six after an inspection revealed cracks and stress in the components of two supporting towers.

Stephen Monahan, director of workers’ compensation and safety at the Vermont Department of Labor, said the state requested all ski towers be inspected after a weekend ski lift derailment in West Virginia. When inspectors visited Suicide Six, he said, they found cracks where a lift’s support arm meets the tower head.

Two people were taken to the hospital when a lift malfunctioned on Saturday at Timberline Resort in Tucker County, W.Va. About 25 people fell off the lift and another 100 temporarily were stranded when it failed, the Associated Press reported.

Monahan said three Vermont lifts were of similar construction and produced by Borvig Ski Lifts, which installed towers from 1961 until the company folded in 1993. One lift was at Mount Snow in Dover, another was located at Stratton Mountain Ski Resort in Londonderry and the third was at Suicide Six. He said state inspectors quickly cleared the Stratton Mountain and Mount Snow lifts for use.

Chuck Vanderstreet, Suicide Six’s director of recreation, said he expects the slopes to remain closed through Thursday. State officials visited the ski area on Sunday morning, he said, and since then, a private company has been helping the ski area to make repairs and prepare for another inspection.

“It’s just a safety thing,” Vanderstreet said, adding that people naturally get nervous after a ski accident makes the news.

Monahan said the resort must follow a prescribed welding plan and complete non-destructive testing on the lift before Vermont officials will allow it to reopen.

New Hampshire also took precautions after the West Virginia accident, according to Briggs Lockwood, the state’s chief of tramway and amusement ride safety.

“We do have a small number of lifts that share some design qualities with the lifts that were affected in West Virginia,” Lockwood said.

As word spread Sunday of the West Virginia accident, he said, officials began reviewing their archive of lift designs and found two in the Granite State similarly made from Borvig parts.

They reviewed the design of one, which runs in the summer, and were able to deem it safe, he said. Another one had been retrofitted since its initial installation, so officials re-inspected the lift before ultimately declaring it safe for public use.

Lockwood declined to specify where those two ski lifts were located.

“We haven’t found anything alarming here,” Lockwood said. No New Hampshire resorts were forced to close.

Ski lifts still provide some of the safest means of transportation in the nation, according to the National Ski Areas Association, an industry group. Since 1973, the association has recorded 12 deaths nationwide attributed to ski lift malfunctions. And there’s been no deaths since 1993, according to the association’s 2015 fact sheet.

Vermont provides periodic lift inspections throughout the ski season, Monahan said, but when officials learn of an accident, they take care to ensure skiers and snowboarders will remain safe.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com.