As we saw last week in West Virginia, it usually doesn’t take long after a lift-related accident for someone to bring up the issue of regulation. Operation of ski lifts and tramways in the United States follows the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) B77.1 Standard for Passenger Ropeways. ANSI is a non-profit organization that oversees the creation of standards for everything from nut and bolt shapes to paper sizes and computer programming language. States adopt ANSI standards which become the laws of the land. The idea is whether you ride a chairlift in Alaska or gondola in Florida, everything from the lift’s line speed to the signage in the load area is spelled out by the same document. You can
download your very own copy here for $175. Update 9/11/2017: There’s a new standard available here, now $200.
The ANSI standard is updated about every five years and some states are faster than others at adopting the latest version. Each state also decides whether to back the B77 standard with licensing and inspections. Without question, the most robust oversight agency in the country is the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, which oversees Colorado’s 275 aerial lifts and countless surface tows. Colorado is the only state to go so far as to conduct unannounced inspections on every lift every year. CPTSB has three full-time staff members and eight contract inspectors. Only a handful of states directly employ lift inspector(s.) Some states hire contract inspectors like Colorado does but many simply require an annual fee and inspection by somebody certified, usually an insurance inspector. The bottom of this post has a table of each state’s requirements as best I could find.
Just because a state doesn’t license tramways or lacks a safety board doesn’t mean that its lifts are unsafe or go un-inspected. Insurance companies generally send inspectors once a year and so does the Forest Service to ski areas in National Forests. There are only so many qualified inspectors to go around so it might be the same person working for the state one week also does insurance inspections another week. The reality is that even the more frequent inspections by outsiders pale in comparison to the amount of time that ski areas’ own lift mechanics and electricians spend making sure lifts are safe. These dedicated men and women know the machines they take care of better than anyone and are on the front lines of safety every day, whether or not an inspector is coming.