Our industry seems to be experiencing an increase in the number of children accidentally falling from chairlifts, as “Up in the Air” (SAM, July 2012) brought to light. This is an issue that will require more data and preventive measures.
These measures may include, among others: encouraging resorts to install restraint bars on all lifts; changes in restraint bar configuration; new employee procedures and training, coupled with guest education and awareness through signage; and stationary practice chairs.
In the meantime, I would like to share with you some of what incident statistics at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain show, and what we are doing to reduce most fall incidents.
The key discovery: small children tend to fall from the chair with the restraint bar up as they approach the top lift terminal in preparation for unloading. This past season, two-thirds of our falls fit this situation.
One reason children have trouble unloading is that, with their short legs, if they sit forward enough for their knees to bend over the edge of the chair, their center of mass is too close to the edge of the chair. This is true at any point during the ride—children can even slip under the bar when it is down. So, kids should sit far back in the chair with their legs extended.
In preparation for unloading, the child has to move forward to get in a position to unload. With this movement, however, the child is vulnerable to pitching forward and out of the chair, exacerbated by the weight of his equipment and/or his enthusiasm to get off the lift. An adult is already in position to unload.
To properly unload, children must move forward with the bar still down, and steady themselves for a few seconds before the bar is raised and the unloading spot is reached.
Since many of these premature unloadings occur beyond the scope of management’s physical ability to prevent them, we believe that warnings and instructions to adults who are riding with small children are the first and most effective steps.
Adults who ride with children should verbally or physically restrain them once the bar is raised, and then make them wait for the proper spot to unload. Accordingly, we intend to place signage in our base areas, lower lift terminals, websites, and other spots to warn adults of the danger.
Our tentative wording of such messages is: “Parents! Small children sometimes fall or jump out of a chairlift before the proper unloading spot, often by raising the restraint bar too early and/or jumping out before the unloading spot. Keep the bar down while your child moves forward in the seat in preparation to unload. Don’t let them unload too early!” A shorter version will be on tower signs on the approach to top terminals.