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What causes a lift to stop?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

If you are a skier or snowboarder who relies on the lift system to transport you to the top of the mountain, as opposed to hiking, chances are you have experienced a lift stop. And while it is easy to assume that a stop is usually the result of mechanical fault, our lift operations department-who records every stop of every lift through the season-has miles of spread sheet data that shows there are many different factors that may cause a lift to stop.

Every time a lift stops, it is recorded by our Lift Controller who then categorizes the cause of the stop into one of six distinctive groups: injury, conditions, wind, electrical, mechanical, and other.

  • Injury - a stop that resulted from an injury either on the lift or during loading/unloading.  
  • Conditions - typically meaning that ski patrol has closed the terrain that the lift services, due to snow and trail conditions.
  • Wind - quite simply, when the wind speed makes it unsafe to continue running the lift
  • Electrical - when the operating status of the lift's electrical components warrant a stop.
  • Mechanical - when a mechanical fault or concern is observed and requires maintenance or an inspection.
  • Other - this is a mixed bag of various non-routine stops. For example ski patrol is loading with a toboggan, and requires the lift to stop in order to load safely, or a passenger drops a piece of equipment or clothing, and the lift attendant stops the lift in order to return the item.

The Lift Controller is a communication liaison between lift operations, lift maintenance, and ski patrol, responsible for monitoring various communication channels, wind speed, temperatures, and daily lift operations, as well as recording all lift activity, and dispatching electrical/maintenance personnel.

The Lift Controller records the daily run time, hold time, inspection, and maintenance of all lifts, to compile average run and downtime analytics for each lift daily, monthly, and cumulatively throughout the season.

A look at last season's lift data shows that of the 10,136 scheduled hours of lift operation, our 14 lifts ran, on average, 88% of the time.  And, of the 13% of downtime broken into the 6 categories, injury resulted in 0% of downtime, conditions equated to 2.12%, wind (the largest contributor) caused 6.5% of hold time, electrical holds resulted in 2.23%, mechanical holds yielded 2.36%, and other equated 0.14%.

Of course, this is an average; conditions often vary immensely from mid-season to spring, as well as from month to month. For instance, during November of 2014, the lifts ran 95% of the operation schedule.

As any skier or rider who has spent significant amounts of time here will attest, Sugarloaf is a notoriously windy mountain. Regardless of the location of a ski resort, wind holds are observed throughout the season, nationwide. Here at Sugarloaf however, there are some lifts that are more vulnerable to wind holds, like Timberline and King Pine.

If you were to analyze the downtime, due to wind, of Timberline alone during the 2014/15 season, you would find that the lift observed wind hold 25% of the 755 scheduled operating hours. Comparatively,  Skidway-which has the third most scheduled hours of any lift-experienced a wind holds 0.19% of the time.

The SuperQuad, which saw the mostoperating hours of any lift on the mountain, observed wind hold 3.1% of the scheduled 1100 operating hours. In total, the SuperQuad ran more than 92% of the time, ranking it fourth among lifts with more than 500 hours of operating time, behind Skidway, Double Runner West, and Snubber.

So the next time to experience a stop while riding a chairlift, remember this post, and you'll have something to talk about with the passenger next to you.