Lift Inspections and State and Federal Regulation
Ski areas adhere to rigorous and exacting inspections procedures for the lifts at their resorts, and the fact that ski areas have not had a fatality due to a lift-related malfunction in 19 years is attributed to their meticulous inspection and maintenance programs. Ski area employees conduct their own individual inspection of theirs lifts on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. This year-round maintenance regimen is conducted pursuant to state agencies, lift manufacturer requirements, federal requirements, national safety standards and other inspection entities.
The American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) – a national, non-profit umbrella accrediting organization which oversees standard-setting committees for nearly every industry in the United States – has a standards committee dedicated solely to ski lifts and passenger ropeway systems. Safety standards for ski lifts have been established by the ANSI Accredited Standards Committee B77 (“B77” for short), which was started back in 1956 to recommend safeguards, principles, specifications, and performance objectives that would reflect the current state of the art of passenger ropeway design, operations, and maintenance. This B77 Committee – which sets national consensus safety standards – is comprised of government officials, engineers, lift manufacturers, ski area owners and operators, academics, and other members of the public interested in ski lift design, operation, and maintenance.11 Membership on the B77 Committee is open to the public. The B77 Committee meets several times each year to address concerns by Committee members, review new technology, analyze incidents involving lifts and ropeways, and vote on updates and changes to these safety standards
11 Canada has a parallel standards committee, known as the Z98 standards, which are similar to ANSI B77 standards in the United States.
9on a regular basis. The current standards regulating ski lifts were most recently approved in 2011.
In turn, state regulatory agencies have adopted these B77 safety standards (and codified them into law) to govern ski lifts and passenger ropeway transportation.12 In addition to these B77 standards, ski areas are subject to inspection by regulators from state agencies governing ski lifts based on the B77 standards. Importantly, most ski areas go above and beyond the minimum standards required by ANSI B77 Committee and state regulatory agencies. Furthermore, many states and other inspection entities require impartial, third-party engineers to conduct lift inspections. In fact, most states require surprise, unannounced chair lift inspections during the course of the ski season as part of the regulatory framework for lift safety.
Additionally, ski areas operating on National Forest System lands must adhere to lift-related requirements in their special use permits. The U.S. Forest Service requires certification and inspection of lifts in accordance with the ANSI B77 Committee standards. The U.S. Forest Service is a member of the ANSI B77 Committee and monitors ski lift construction and operation on public land.
As part of ski areas’ maintenance and inspection procedures, independent specialists are brought in to inspect the wire ropes (the wire that carries the chairs) and chairlift grip testing. Areas routinely inspect tower footings that support the lift equipment, the sheaves that support the haul rope on the towers, gear boxes, brakes, and the electric motors powering the lifts, as well as other components. In fact, all ski lifts are required to have auxiliary engines as back-up power sources, in case there is a loss of electrical power. Lastly, ski areas routinely practice chair lift evacuation drills with their ski patrols in case of hazardous conditions or lift malfunctions.