A new rule is likely to be put into place in May 2011 where old lifts will be updated with new safety equipment.
The rule was introduced due to an incident that occurred in December 2009 where 14 skiers and snowboarders were injured when a chair lift malfunctioned at Devil’s Head Resort in Wisconsin. The lift was filled with passengers when the braking system failed, causing it to roll backwards. As the lift picked up speed, terrified skiers jumped off to avoid being tossed from the chair when the lift hit the bottom. The accident occurred because the lift was not supplied with the device that automatically engages the emergency brake in the event that the chairs were to roll backwards. The American National Standards Institute (a non-profit organization which oversees the development of standards for products) required all lifts that were installed after 1982 to have the device. Any lifts that were installed before that time were grandfathered in and did not need the device. The lift that failed at Devil’s Head was installed in 1971.
After the Devil’s Head accident is when the National Ski Areas Association (a ski lift standards developer on behalf of the ANSI) began proposing that old lifts should be required to have the breaking device. The rule is being discussed and may be implemented next May. In the meantime, Devil’s Head has voluntarily installed the breaking device.