43rd RMLA Conference, May 2014—Lift Safety Ideas, Summer Activity Concerns and More

The annual Rocky Mountain Lift Association (RMLA) conference May 5-8 in Grand Junction, Colo., expanded the usual safety and risk-management themes to year-round activities—a trend that has spanned several conferences this season. That, along with the many training sessions and several “does this happen at your area?” roundtables, drew a typical crowd of 315 attendees, along with another 111 speakers and suppliers.

Attorney Wayne Pierce advised attendees on the many differences in risk management and guest expectations between winter and summer operations in his opening keynote address. He presented an overview of the standard-setting organizations and regulatory landscape, and offered his thoughts regarding the impact of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Act, which will increase the number and type of off-season and year-round activities on public lands. Pierce gave the audience plenty of food for thought as they consider the implications of adding summer and year-round activities.

NSAA technical services director Sid Roslund reviewed cautionary, teachable moments from the past year in his “Little Shop” session, from large-scale disasters like the wildfire that devastated the Royal Gorge facilities and tramway last summer to small hiccups like a subcontractor snagging (and damaging) a chair with its tree-removal equipment. Avoiding incidents is often the result of paying attention to small anomalies; Roslund lauded a few lift operators who recognized when a lift was not quite operating properly and called in mechanics to identify and correct the problem before it led to a serious failure.

RMLA also introduced two controversial ideas: camera surveillance at lift terminals, and the development of a mechanics rating system.

NSAA’s Dave Byrd made the case for the use of surveillance cameras at top and bottom lift terminals, both as a teaching tool and for risk management. Resorts that have been using cameras for the past few years have found that they help identify errors in operations and speed the correction of them. Not that lifties make a lot of mistakes; to the contrary, the cameras have shown that lift operators are doing their jobs consistently well. A two-year study of video-taped incidents showed that roughly 85 percent of those from the loading point to the unloading ramp are user-induced, and only 2 percent result from lift operator error. By clearly showing who’s at fault, the cameras reduce incident losses and legal costs—even when they place fault on an employee. Still, surveillance has a bad rep currently, given the broader societal concern about Big Brother, and some in attendance remained uneasy with the idea.

Larry Smith of the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board introduced the concept of a lift mechanic rating system. The system would help to establish the qualifications of mechanics, both for risk management purposes and to aid resorts in evaluating prospective employees and their past experience. It would also give mechanics a way to plan their careers. Smith presented an outline of proposed components for each of three levels, and described it as a first step in what will likely be a long-term process. Questions, issues, and skepticism that arose during the session leant credibility to that prospect.

In addition to the usual range of mechanics’ classes, new sessions focused on the need for procedures and plans for working after hours, and off-season lift evacuation planning, which often involves more variables than winter evacuations.

RMLA also recognized excellence in lift maintenance and ops via its annual awards, details of which are in the slide show.