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How safe are ski lifts in North America?

Outside Magazine published an excellent article recently about ski lift safety in America.  The article titled, “Is Your Local Chairlift a Death Trap?” was the culmination of a great deal of research into ski lift injuries caused by lift failure.  The article argues that the nation’s aging lifts are a ticking time bomb.

Take a look at the article:

http://www.outsideonline.com/2069911/your-local-chairlift-could-kill-you

 

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Many ski lifts around the country are old.  Outside’s article notes that there are over 100 lifts currently in operation in America that are over 50 years old.  Many of the older lifts are found at smaller mountains where they have been purchased and installed second hand or have simply been in use for decades.  Its not uncommon to see Riblet brand lifts that were installed in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Unfortunately, parts for many of the lifts of this era are not longer available.  Despite an aging fleet of lifts, the industry has resisted assigning a lifespan to ski lifts.

Its inevitable that machines simply wear over time.  This is especially true for those that are exposed to the elements all year and often exposed extreme weather conditions.  Metal also corrodes and fatigues as it ages, further weakening the integrity of the lift.  This natural process only underscores how critical exceptional lift maintenance.

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For some perspective, Outside’s article cites a presentation given by Gary Mayo, a customer support manager for Doppelmayr USA in Salt Lake City.  Doppelmayr is one of two lift builders in the United States.  Outside reports that Mayo has compared the nation’s aging lifts to the iceberg that struck the Titanic: on a bluebird day, you sit back on your lift and look around, and all you see are the majestic snow-covered mountaintops. But beneath your seat is a clunky machine patched together from components that could be housed in the Smithsonian. “The earliest detachable lift installations in the United States have already surpassed the initial targeted life expectancy!” reads a summary of Mayo’s talk about planning for aging lifts from the 2015 Massachusetts Lift Maintenance Seminar. “What is lurking out there to sink YOUR ship?”  It definitely makes you uncomfortable when an industry insider confirms that many of the more modern lifts we ride have already surpassed their targeted life expectancy.

Outside cites a number of recent lift failures around country as evidence that some of the oldest lifts out there are literally falling apart on the mountain – and often loaded with people.

According the National Ski Areas Association, all is fine and good.  It argues that ski lifts are safe and that you have much greater chance of injury or death participating in a number of other activities.  NSAA also maintains that additional oversight and regulation is not needed because it has done a fine job regulating itself notably by promulgating ANSI B77.  ANSI B77 is a set of voluntary lift maintenance standards created largely by the industry itself.

You can read NSAA’s position on lift safety here:

http://www.nsaa.org/media/214677/Lift_Safety_Fact_Sheet_10_31_14.pdf

As a skier riding a lift at your local mountain, your safety depends on how modern the lift is and how well its been inspected and maintained by the mountain.  In the long run, skiers can push for adoption of standards that create more oversight and uniform inspection, maintenance and part replacement intervals.  Skiers can also hold mountains legally accountable if a failure occurs that cause injuries.

Statistically speaking, the chances are extremely low that one will be injured in ski lift failure.  However, these injuries are largely preventable.

If you have been involved in a ski lift accident give me a call.

Stay safe out there and pray for snow!