Protection for All Seasons

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Summer ops can add to your revenue stream, but they are not care-free.



Summer activities were a hot subject even before this past winter reminded resorts of the advantages of diversification. They are sure to become even higher priority now, with added impetus in the West coming from the passage of the Summer Operations bill last fall.

With the growth of summer operations, though, comes the need for renewed attention to risk management. Every activity carries some level of liability risk. This means that resorts must pay attention to the state of care and best practices in any summer activity they plan to offer.

Ropes Courses and Canopy Tours
All this was visible at the convention of the Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) in Boston last February. ACCT seeks to be the primary source of information and standards-writing for ropes courses, canopy tours, and ziplines. Tours and ziplines are “a whole new world,” as Richard Donahue, senior VP for claims and loss control at Willis Programs, says, and there are no official standards regarding their construction and operation. Many businesses are following the draft ACCT standard, which Donahue calls “a step in the right direction.” Those guidelines cover installation, site selection, personal protection systems, inspection standards and processes, and operational standards, include management and staff competencies.

Donahue notes that, as in skiing and riding, inherent risk laws provide some protection for summer attractions. The laws governing some amusement/ adventure park activities include similar provisions and language. There are ASTM regulations that put some burden on users, too.

As in ski statutes, some state laws require posting of the statute of limitations. And they typically describe the appropriate signage and language for summer attractions. “The communication to guests can get quite specific,” Donahue says. In moving into summer ops, resorts should fully explore the requirements for guest protection and communication.

For some activities, organizations such as ASTM spell out requirements for builders, designers, operators, riders, and others, written in similar language to the ANSI standards resorts are familiar with.

“Participants have to act responsibly and accept the risks,” says Donahue, “but as usual, the devil is in the details.” Each state defines amusements in slightly different terms, and each has its own specific requirements and regulations.

There are also some key differences between winter and summer activities, and those differences require attention. One general maxim of risk management is that, in general, “the more you direct and control the fate of the patron, the more likely you are to be held responsible to keep them safe,” Donahue notes.

The Value of Waivers
Liability waivers are often a key element in managing risk—to the extent that they are acknowledged and accepted in a particular state. “That’s a key component of the program for risk management purposes,” says Donahue.

The key phrases don’t really change much, he says, but the risks must be described and spelled out appropriately. And that varies by activities, whether they are coasters, bungee trampolines, water parks, or ziplines.

Plus, waivers have to reflect the way you sell tickets. This can pose a challenge for resorts that host a range of summer activities. Ideally, a liability waiver relates to a specific activity—or, if a resort sells an all-inclusive day or summer pass, relates to the risks of all the activities accessible with the pass. The waiver must comply with state laws, too.

It’s also important to know whether your state allows parents to waive kids’ rights; some do, some don’t.

Finally, make sure you have a good system for storing and retrieving waivers. One way is to go electronic; the options for this are expanding (see EZWaiver, page 54, for one).

Beware, Pioneers
Donahue encourages resorts to do their homework before diving into summer operations. When it comes to new activities such as ziplines, he says, it’s not necessary to be the first to have them, “but to be first with a good layout and management plan.” He cites Perfect North Slopes and its careful entry into snow tubing as an example. The area studied the market, learned from the missteps of the early adopters, and then created one of the best tubing parks anywhere.

“We could see something similar with ziplines,” he says. He urges resorts to bring in outside expertise, and to make sure the experts are truly that. “A lot of companies are trying to get in and cash in on this new thing,” he says. “You have to do due diligence, check referrals and make sure all suppliers have insurance, as with any other major investment.” Aside from their expertise, solid suppliers will share responsibility in case of an accident.

So go ahead and investigate the benefits of summer ops. Just remember to consider all the ramifications of taking the plunge.

To learn more about summer opportunities, check out SAM’s Summer Ops Camp at The Canyons— go to www.saminfo.com/summer-ops-camp/register.
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