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More than 500 lift mechanics, operations staff, managers, suppliers, and instructors attended the 45th annual Rocky Mountain Lift Association (RMLA) Spring Conference May 2-5 in Grand Junction, Colo. The theme was “Expanding Winter into Summer” but focus was clearly on lift maintenance training and winter operations. There were fewer sessions on risk management and guest service this year, and more about how to keep older lifts healthy.

In particular, sessions this year emphasized practical maintenance issues, formal lift training, and more rigorous inspection of lifts. To make sure everyone heard the message, NSAA director of risk and regulatory affairs Dave Byrd addressed these issues in the Tuesday morning keynote, and NSAA director of technical services Sid Roslund did the same in his "Little Shop" presentation on Wednesday morning. The message: the traditional on-the-job training isn't getting the job done.

Byrd pointed to an upcoming article in Outside magazine, which questions the safety of the existing lift infrastructure nationwide. The article notes that from 1980 to 2007, there were 5 reported lift incidents in the media. Since 2009, there have been 6—which represents a quadrupling of incident reports. This increase probably reflects the impact of social media as much as an actual increase in incidents, but as Byrd told the audience, expect the drumbeat of public reports of lift failures to continue.

And that, Byrd said, could lead to calls for regulations that would require more formal lift maintenance training. At the moment, only Ontario in North America requires that. But even without a legal requirement, Mike Wiese of Leitner-Poma recommended that resorts set up their own formal training programs, and reviewed several that resorts have created.

Given the media attention of the past year, major emphasis at RMLA fell on how to maintain older lifts. That included a packed session on "The Bridge Between Finance and Lift Maintenance," which described how to talk to the finance department and make staff understand what expenses are required by law, as well as for risk management.

And what about summer? It was addressed in a three-hour double session, "Summer Activities: The Myths, Assumptions and Realities." Jamie Barrow, summer operations director for Vail Resorts, spent a lot of time describing how resorts should deal with regulators and vendors. In a frank and practical presentation, he pointed out how vendors and regulators can both assist and hinder projects. As resorts move into new-to-them activities such as zip lines and adventure parks, he said, make sure that vendors build what you need, and provide all the documentation and training for operating and maintaining it. And he provided several examples of how to work with the Forest Service and other regulators. It often comes down to asking, "Can you show me where that's required in the regulations?"

RMLA also acknowledged excellence in its ranks through its annual awards. Mark Wait of Monarch Mountain was named 2016 Maintenance Person of the Year, and Daniel Last of Telluride Ski & Golf earned the 2016 Operations Person of the Year Award. And the Contribution to the Industry Award went to Dave Kenney, the creator and longtime organizer of the Lift Maintenance Seminar (LMS) in Massachusetts, a venerable counterpart to the RMLA conference. Last but not least, Alex Ranz and John Stratton earned $1,000 scholarships to Colorado Mountain College and its ski area management program.