Engineers hit the slopes to test lifts ahead of ski season

9NEWS @ 4. 10/18/2016

BRECKENRIDGE - When the temperature gets cold, the schedules of the engineers at the state Department of Regulatory Agencies heat up.

Starting around Labor Day, engineers head out in Colorado to do around 800 inspections on lifts and gondolas in the fall, winter and then in the spring.

Just before the ski season starts, engineers are in Breckenridge at the 6 Chair's motor room testing a new electric motor that will be able to handle more people on the lift.

Hundreds of trash cans are brought out and filled with water before they're placed two to a chair.

“What we are doing here is loading the lift with simulated passenger weight," Larry Smith with DORA said. "We use 170 pounds per passenger plus 10 percent."

The lift is then run at high speeds and slow speeds. They're stopped and started quickly to test the brakes and safety systems, which include hundreds of safety switches designed to stop the lift should a cable come loose or a lift starts to roll backward.

Many lifts around Colorado are decades-old, but have been fitted with newer equipment over the years. Even those state-of-the-art lifts get tested to keep millions of people safe.

Last year, around 13 million people skied in Colorado. It’s estimated a person averages about seven rides a day, and if you include parks and recreational lifts, that's about 100 million rides on Colorado lifts.

DORA says the last lift failure that caused an accident was in 1976 and 1985.

The low number of accidents could be attributed to the fact Colorado lifts are tested unlike any other state in the country.

“Colorado is the only one that requires professional engineering licenses on our eight inspectors,” Smith said.

Engineers like Smith know their stuff; after 40 years in the ski business, all he has to do is touch a lift to find flaws. 

“You can feel the vibrations...you know when something is amiss,” he said.

Rest assured if you see him on a lift, there’s a good chance things are running great.

“I have no worries rising any of the lifts across the state,” he said. 

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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