This article is an abridged version of one that appeared in the NSAA Journal Early Winter issue, which is available at nsaa.org.
The NSAA Lift Maintenance Training Resource Guide (LMRG) is now available at nsaa.org >> Safety. Developed over the past three years, the LMRG outlines the knowledge, skills, and expertise that lift maintenance technicians need to maintain chairlifts.
What is the LMRG?
The resource guide provides lift maintenance personnel and area management with the tools and guidance to construct an effective and efficient lift maintenance program. Because the maintenance required varies area to area and lift to lift, the guide provides flexibility in how to document, structure, schedule, and track maintenance processes, procedures, and training. This information will further help in developing training programs appropriate for your area and staff.
The resource guide is structured so that lift maintenance personnel and their employers can quickly access specific technical sections, such as hydraulics or bullwheels, and clearly identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience necessary for that category or level of maintenance technician. Each topic area is addressed at three levels, based on degree of knowledge and responsibilities. This, in turn, presents a clear progression for lift maintenance personnel.
Why, How & Who
The most urgent reason for developing the LMRG is to retain the institutional knowledge that senior lift mechanics will otherwise take with them as they retire. Without concrete strategies and tools to capture that knowledge, resorts may fail to pass along the knowledge and experience to the next generation of lift maintenance technicians. No one knows your lifts better than your lift mechanics. The knowledge they possess about the equipment and its idiosyncrasies is virtually irreplaceable. The LMRG provides a pathway to collect and document that knowledge.
Another reason is the need for consistency in training nationally. There are common elements across the different training programs that exist, from college programs to regional lift seminars. But there is no consistent curriculum or defined outcomes that outline what someone can expect from these programs. What a tech learns about electrical circuits at one conference, for instance, may be different than the “same” class taught somewhere else.
To address these needs, NSAA collected volunteers from lift manufacturers, ski areas, insurance companies, regulatory agencies, and the existing school programs. All agreed that the LMRG should not describe how to do the job within each technical domain, but rather, what a lift maintenance technician would need to know and be able to do.
In addition, the LMRG identifies the resources for lift maintenance personnel to gain access to the appropriate knowledge regarding the topic area, and considerations for how to develop and validate that skill. It will be up to individual ski areas to determine how best to structure their training programs, in-house or otherwise, to fit their needs.
Ultimately, the resource guide was developed to support areas in structuring and supplementing their lift maintenance and training, not to replace or compete with existing lift maintenance and training programs.
How to Put the LMRG Into Practice
First, review it. You can find the NSAA Lift Maintenance Training Resource Guide at nsaa.org >> Safety. You need a valid account login to access the Lift Maintenance page under the “Safety” tab. To obtain a login, visit www.nsaa.org/account/create-account.
Second, put it into the hands of everyone who has a role in lift maintenance at your area—the GM, mountain operations director, lift maintenance and lift operations leadership, and all maintenance technicians. All must understand what’s involved with a quality lift maintenance program, and why it is important to have a culture that respects the importance of lift maintenance.
Third, put your program in writing. To assist in that, the LMRG can serve as a template. The program should include:
• What needs to be done
• When it gets done
• How to do it
• How many people are needed
• Who did what
• What tools are needed
• The safety considerations
• What special steps are required to get the job done right the first time
• What else needs to be done as part of a particular task
Fourth, customize the template. For many areas, thinking about all of the tasks and what goes into each, let alone creating a schedule of when each is to be done, is a daunting task. That’s where the LMRG can really help. You can edit, add, or delete material to customize the LMRG to your area. The LMRG guides you in developing the maintenance and training program that best fits your lift system and needs.
To begin identifying the “what,” start with your lift manuals. Review the individual manuals, service bulletins, and various logs starting from when the lift was installed. If a list of maintenance tasks already exists, go through the list with your mechanics, line by line, to see if any tasks, however minor, are missing. Use the LMRG as a comparison tool: Does it identify tasks that aren’t on the list? Do they apply? If so, add them.
If manuals are missing, reach out to other areas with lifts of the same vintage and manufacturer. NSAA can be a resource, too—we may be able to steer you toward someone with the correct document. Conversely, consider what materials you might have to contribute, and let NSAA know what you have. We might be able to connect you with someone who could benefit from your stash.
To address “who does what,” consider the three levels outlined in the LMRG. For example, you would not ask a Level One (entry level) mechanic to assemble and disassemble the components associated with a chairlift gearbox and schedule the maintenance. That’s a task for the top level, or Level Three, mechanic. A Level Three should also know when a situation exceeds his or her knowledge and skills and call in someone with more expertise and knowledge.
While creating the list of tasks to be done, set up the schedule for doing them: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly. Some of this may already be documented in the service manuals. And remember, some tasks are scheduled according to the number of hours of operation or service time.
Make the information accessible. All the above can be written down in a table format, put into a spreadsheet file (like the example in the Preventative Maintenance chapter) or into a maintenance scheduling system. Choose the format that works best for your operation and allows the flexibility and structure needed.
Forms, Checklists, & Work Orders
As part of the documentation process, create forms and checklists to help keep track of the work being done and reduce the chance of something being missed. For example, including a checklist of the tools required to perform a particular task improves the chances that the tech arrives at the job site with everything he or she needs. What types of forms and checklists do you need? Daily pre-operational checklists, operational logs, evacuation logs, training logs, maintenance logs for daily, weekly, monthly, and annual maintenance, as well as forms for any unscheduled maintenance or repair, inspections, testing, etc., that is outside the norm.
One consideration: will you record the work on paper or track everything electronically using phones, tablets, and/or a computer? Another option is to ask other resorts what they use, and if they would be willing to share their forms.
Work orders. Work orders are a great way to track the regular and unscheduled maintenance work on lifts. These can be generated when scheduled maintenance comes up, or when a call comes in for a repair or issue at a lift.
The work order should have space for several specifics, including:
• The date it was generated
• When the work was done
• Who performed the work
• The task/work to be done
• The work procedure or where to find it
• Other resources, like service manuals, that might be helpful
• What work was actually done
• Any parts repaired or replaced
• Test results
• Signature for when the work is completed.
Documenting the Work Procedure
You can’t necessarily replace the insights and intuition senior lift mechanics possess from years of working with the equipment, but you can document how they perform tasks. This makes their knowledge explicit, so it can be transferred to a new generation.
Write it down. The documentation process can be as simple as you make it. You might have a new employee go out with more senior techs and write everything down: what is being done, how it is done, why it is being done that way, how many people it takes, what tools are used, what tips and tricks make the job easier, and how long it takes. This alone gives the new employee an education they might not receive otherwise.
Another benefit is that the person performing the work can explain why they do a task a certain way. Maybe they follow a different order than is described in the manufacturer’s service manual, and writing down their particular process should highlight those variances and why they make sense.
Photos and video help. Take lots of photos and insert them into the document to provide visual references. Provide descriptions of the photos, and emphasize particular points with circles or arrows where needed.
Video is another great tool. Capture a view and audio that explain what the viewer should know about what is being done, what to look for, why something is done a certain way (especially when it varies from the manufacturer’s directions), and any tips to make it easier to accomplish the task. Make sure the work area is well lit, and the equipment being worked on is clearly visible. Writing out the work procedure can follow, using the video.
If more than one maintenance tech performs the same task, we strongly recommend documenting how both of them perform that task. One may have figured out a quicker or easier way to complete that task without compromising safety. Review the written work procedure and/or video with the lift maintenance teams, and decide which process to use going forward.
Training comes in many forms. Whether a formal training in a shop with a leader and “students” or informal discussions between techs in the truck on the way up the hill, the important element is the transfer of knowledge.
Create a schedule of training events for your lift team, and encourage your experienced lift maintenance techs to share their knowledge and experience with the new and less experienced techs. These events cultivate ongoing learning and development among your team and foster camaraderie.
Trainers can be senior techs on staff, lift manufacturer reps, other vendors, or even techs from other ski areas. Outside expertise may offer knowledge that doesn’t exist within the staff, and having a collaborative relationship with nearby ski areas may unlock access to resources when they are most needed. In all cases, trainers should encourage others to share what they know about the topic.
While structured training provides many benefits, the knowledge gained through informal interactions is sometimes the stickiest. Encourage team members to ask questions. Senior staff may not think to volunteer information or take someone under their wing unless that senior tech is a teacher by nature or culture promotes this sharing of information.
Ski areas should document training, too. This should include when training occurs (easier with scheduled training), the topic(s) covered, any PPE and safety considerations for that training, who led the training, who attended, and the length of the training.
Work Process, In Progress
The NSAA Lift Maintenance Training Resource Guide represents a significant step forward for NSAA and the industry. It can help each ski area improve its lift maintenance operations and develop a quality assurance program to meet the requirements of ANSI B.77-1. We have provided examples of best practices in lift maintenance and training programs, and key considerations for developing a program. It is up to individual ski areas to determine how best to structure training programs to fit their needs.
We will periodically refresh and update the LMRG. We encourage and welcome feedback sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or in person at the various regional lift maintenance training events.