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March 2015

Orphan Ski Lifts

Though a lift's manufacturer may no longer be in business, the lift still requires maintenance and support. Where do you find it?

Written by Howard R. Anderson, PE, Specialized Engineering | 0 comment

Chances are that you as a resort manager or owner have one or more of the 70 percent of the existing ski lifts in the U.S. that are orphans—those lifts whose original manufacturer is no longer in business. There are some 21 former lift manufacturers who are therefore unable to continue with original spare parts, service, maintenance, and engineering. So where do you turn for support?

There are no hard and fast numbers for orphan lifts, but they are widespread. In preparing a presentation for PNSAA, we found that about 70 percent of the region’s lifts are orphans. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the figure is closer to 90 percent. These are some big numbers.

The list of defunct lift companies is long: Ski Lift International, Riblet, Hall, Hall/PHB, Thiokol, Borvig, Yan, Mueller, Stadeli, Murray Latta, Von Roll, Heron, Heron-Poma, Bell, Huntzinger, Konstam, Ringer, Miner-Denver, Habbeger, Tiegel, Roebling, and copycat manufacturers such as O. E. “Bud” Johnson.

Other companies have stepped in to provide service and parts for some orphans, of course. Skytrac services Thiokol, Hall, and CTEC. Doppelmayr services those brands, too, plus Stadeli, von Roll, and others. Aerial Engineering provides parts for Riblet. But others simply faded out of existence. As with all lifts, these orphans require service, technical support, problem solving, replacement parts, service instructions, service bulletins, and technical assistance, too.

ANSI B77 states, in Sec 1.5.4, Operations and Maintenance, “The Owner’s QA program for all ropeways shall include verification and documentation that the ropeway is operated and maintained in accordance with the original design criteria, including the performance of in-use periodic testing by qualified personnel.” “Design criteria” means the original design documents, supporting information, maintenance instructions, and service instructions and/or bulletins.

How do we find the information needed to comply with all the items in the B77 code, such as torque testing of brakes and complying with NDT requirements, let alone learning about past or present situations regarding these lifts?

Here’s a list of the means we developed in discussions at PNSAA and MSAA. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start.

• Find someone with your type of lifts to network with.

• Attend trade shows and ask around for info.

• Research on the web.

• Track down any service bulletins regarding your orphan lifts.

• Ask for outside help from sources who can cast a wide net: your insurance company, a tramway inspector, or your tramway Board.

• Visit other ski areas to see how they implement their QA plan. Some Washington state areas are doing this, and finding it very helpful for all aspects of lift maintenance.

These steps can produce good results. For example, one manufacturer’s lifts were experiencing U bolt failures (see photo). Maintenance inspections turned up failures and other near failures. By sharing information, six ski area maintenance supervisors, two engineers, two wire rope inspectors, and a tramway board member developed a simple visual inspection regimen. Resorts replaced failed bolts, changed out suspect bolts before they failed, and continue to monitor the bolts.

The question is, how does the remainder of the industry get the word? All of the 90-plus attendees at the PNSAA and MSAA lift maintenance sessions agreed that someone needs to do some sort of a service letter to the industry. But since this is truly an orphan, no entity is legally responsible to do so.

That’s why networking is so important. To that end, I carry a broken U bolt on my resort visits and show it to every ski area that has or might have this type of component part. Visuals can be an effective form of communication.

Quality Assurance Tips
So what can a maintenance supervisor do to enhance his QA program for orphan lifts? Here are a few ideas.

• Track down the original plans for your lifts. If they are not on hand, find them, or substitute documents for a lift that is equivalent to what you have.

• Locate the original or relocated lift data sheet, or develop one if necessary.

• Find your maintenance manual, or start to develop one. Areas often find they are missing some lift maintenance documents. Again, networking is key.

• Collect all of the service bulletins for your lifts. For example, with all the Riblets in the West, we have been collecting as many bulletins as we can. So far, we have determined that Riblet issued 141 service bulletins, along with individual service letters regarding resorts’ specific equipment. In some instances, resorts with lifts relocated from other areas never received the related service bulletins, maintenance instructions, or operating instructions.

• If you don’t have all NDT procedures, visual or other, acquire them. Visit neighboring areas or contact a knowledgable tramway consultant if necessary.

• List all modifications to your ski lift, along with the dates they were done.

• Train new mechanics by letting them review these service bulletins and all other documents regarding the lifts.

• Make a list of all component parts of your orphan, as well as where and how to obtain spare parts. Most hydraulic systems component parts can be found at your local hydraulic supplier, for example. In one instance, brake system parts were available from an auto parts store.

• Don’t be bashful about calling for assistance. There are lots of knowledgeable individuals in this industry, and most willingly share what they know.

These steps are just a start. But they will help the knowledge base grow, and could extend the life of these orphan lifts by several years.