lift maintenance

Aspen Mountain’s Ruthie’s chairlift shut down in March following Gov. Polis’ statewide closure of all ski areas due to COVID-19. Lift maintenance training and refresher courses held by industry experts that normally take place in the spring were also curtailed by the pandemic. That’s in part behind an initiative between Colorado Mountain College and the National Ski Areas Association providing basic maintenance lift education in 10 online learning modules.

Training ski lift mechanics took a boot-sized step backward last spring when the pandemic shut down in-person, hands-on education at conferences and seminars.

But lifts still need to be maintained to keep running, and training to keep current or reinforce the fundamentals of ski lift maintenance is now being offered online through a partnership between Colorado Mountain College and the National Ski Areas Association. It’s open to employees of member ski areas and also sponsored by lift manufacturer Leitner-Poma, of Grand Junction, and partnership sponsors Doppelmayr and the Rocky Mountain Lift Association.

Announced Thursday, the curriculum of 10 online “learning modules” provides basic education related to some fundamentals of lift maintenance, including hydraulic, mechanical and electrical principles. The online education isn’t meant to be a substitute for hands-on education but rather to complement other learning.

“While there’s nothing better than hands-on, there are other opportunities beyond conferences,” said Mike Lane, director of technical services for the NSAA, on Monday.

Institutional knowledge

During a normal, pre-pandemic ski season, lift mechanics have opportunities for training through conferences like the four-day event Rocky Mountain Lift Association annually hosts during the spring in Grand Junction, Lane said.

In 2020, of course, ski area employees from lift operations to lift maintenance weren’t able to convene in Grand Junction — nor Massachusetts, California or the Southeast for their annual conferences and educational opportunities, where training best practices and updates can be shared.

NSAA had in 2019 published the “Lift Maintenance Resource Guide,” a seminal work that included data passed down from old caps on the mountain to the next generation. Lane and Earl Saline, also of NSAA, as well as CMC’s Brian Rosser last year “began their collaboration to deliver education pods that will help lift mechanics improve their knowledge,” which is recorded in that guide.

Lane said there was a realization that as industry veterans approached retirement age, some institutional knowledge wasn’t being archived.

“The ability to pass on that knowledge and experience and wisdom was not being taken advantage of over time,” Lane said.

While new resorts can continually upgrade their fleet with new and improved lift systems, “the older equipment doesn’t necessarily go away,” he continued. “A lot of time, it gets reinstalled at smaller operations.”

The “Lift Maintenance Resource Guide” chronicled some of that essential information about what one needs to know to maintain some of these old-but-still-functioning lifts, Lane said. It’s applicable to both a new mechanic and as a refresher for a technician at the next level. 

The extent of viewership by Aspen Skiing Co. employees couldn’t be immediately confirmed; Lane said the videos have been widely viewed both domestically and abroad.

NSAA’s collaboration with CMC to deliver this information through educational pods was prescient in its pre-COVID-19 planning. Similar initiatives could happen with schools in Oregon and Northern Michigan, Lane said.

While the lift maintenance modules are open only to employees of NSAA member ski areas, CMC’s educational offerings to prospective and current mountain employees are as varied as Aspen Highlands’ terrain.

“We offer a wide span of different certificates and degrees in the ski and snowboard industry,” said CMC spokesperson Debbie Crawford-Arensman. They may be found atcoloradomtn.edu/programs/.

Two other classes on lift maintenance will be developed for release during the 2020-21 season, according to CMC, and will again be offered free of charge to employees of NSAA member areas.

While some lift maintenance education practices have been able to shift to virtual modes during the pandemic, safety inspections are not among them.

“Testing is all hands-on,” Lane said. “You have to see the equipment and be there. When we do the testing, we’re looking for a host of different things — hopefully canvassing the entire machine visually, audibly and through smell” as a way to analyze the machine when it’s running.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board confirmed Monday that lift safety testing remains on-site.

“Tramway inspections in Colorado are still being conducted on a routine basis through in-person site visits from inspectors,” said Nathan Batchelder, a director of external affairs for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. “Inspectors abide by all state and local public health requirements when conducting inspections, including the use of masks, social distancing and other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.” 

 

Madeleine Osberger, madski@aspendailynews.com, is a contributing editor.

Madeleine Osberger is a contributing editor of the Aspen Daily NewsShe can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99