Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Lift Ride

      I can still remember the feeling of my first ride on the ski lift.    The experience of being suspended high over the snow produced some anxiety about the safety of the ride as well as a feeling of precariousness of hanging in the chair with feet dangling.    However this feeling soon disappeared and now the lift ride provokes little excitement.   However,  when one visits a new area some of the lift and gondola rides can be breathtaking.   The gondola ride at Snowbird is always an exciting ride for me.
     Although there is always some potential risk in riding a ski lift, we are blessed with regulations and inspections that minimize danger to the public.   I would hate to think how much more risky a ski lift ride would be without some agency looking over the shoulder of the ski area operators.   To me there is a good case for all kinds of codes and regulation when there is a risk of injury to the public.   I'm for unnecessary government interference but I am thankful that we have codification and sharing of standards that force the best practices in ski lift operations.   Even with this shared knowledge and regulation failures occur as proven by the recent lift failure in Maine.  Hopefully something will be learned from that event.   Meanwhile the ski industry will continue to look for improvements in lift safety for all.   I have often observed that small children riding without an adult are certainly at risk of falling from the chair.   Tonight I read in Ski magazine about an  innovation of a magnetic vest for kids of ages 3-6 as a means to hold them in the chair during the ride.   Seems like a great idea.
     As an engineer I often try to observe the safety gear on the ski lifts intended to prevent derailment of the cable as well as to stop the lift in the case of malfunction.   I observe that even if there is  a derailment there are guards  to catch the cable to keep it from leaving the tower.   See photo below.  I wonder why that mechanism didn't work in Maine.   Thankfully after over 40 plus years of riding ski lifts I have never had to be evacuated from a failed lift.
Cable Retainers at the Towers


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