Choose Green for Safety

By Eva Potter

In Ellicottville, you can take your pick from a number of bars, but HoliMont General Manager Dave Riley is hoping you’ll pay close attention to the newest one.

Safety has always been a top priority at the largest private ski area in the United States. HoliMont also has a solid reputation for using cutting-edge technology, whether it involves making snow or installing new ski lifts, and it’s this kind of forward thinking that propelled Riley to install new red and green light bars at the top of HoliMont’s chairlifts.

Last year, while on a trip to Swiss and Austrian ski resorts to look at lift technology, he noticed the light bars at the lift unloading ramps.

The Austrian’s philosophy is to get chairlift riders with the safety bar down until they are very close to ramp. The ski areas Riley visited consistently had signage that told the rider not to open the safety bar until they saw the green lights.

Riley said, “I was told that the concept is a national law and every ski area must use the technology. The Austrians keep impeccable records, and the statistics have shown that if a child falls out of a chair, 90 percent of the time it happens when the safety bar goes up too early and the child scoots forward to prepare to unload.”

Therefore, logic dictates that delaying raising the safety bar until the last second at the unloading ramp – not when you’re high in the air at a tower – improves rider security.

This philosophy differs from ours. Many Western U.S. ski resort chairlifts have no safety bars at all. According to Riley, chairlifts in New York must have safety bars and all ski areas enforce their use, but users don’t always follow the rules wisely.

“We’re in the habit of popping the safety bar early, and scooching around and getting ready (to get off),” said Riley. “Really, though, you have plenty of time when you get to the ramp to raise it.”

Bringing this technology from Austria to HoliMont proved to be cost prohibitive, however, so Riley and a few others put their engineering skills to use and designed their own version of the light bar. Their third and final design is being installed at all HoliMont chairlift off-ramps this week.

“As you come up to the ramp, you see the row of red lights. When you see the green light, you can at raise the safety bar. It’s very close to the terminal, which is on purpose,” he explained. “Actually, both the red and green lights are on at the same time. It’s just a question of your view.”

As you are travelling, the red is blocked from view and the green is exposed, signaling it’s safe to raise the bar.

Riley said they’ve also modified the signage on the tower before offload to read, “raise the bar when you see the green light.”

To advance safety at all ski resorts, Riley has proposed a change to the ANSI B77.1 standard, a law enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor that regulates chairlift safety, among other systems. He would like the standard also to mandate that “all new lifts sold must have safety bars, and if a lift is relocated and upgraded to the B77 code, then it also would have to have a safety bar installed.” His proposal is currently being considered legislatively.

In addition, HoliMont has begun sharing their design with other interested ski areas.

“We are making a completed light bar to send to Mammoth ski area in California, which also wants to use this technology,” he said.

Riley has no illusions that the red and green light bars will change the behavior of skiers overnight, but he has seen a subtle change.

“Within the last two months, I’ve noticed that many of our members and guests are waiting longer before they raise the bar,” he said. “It is my hope that this concept will catch on in the U.S. and, if it does, I have no doubt that we will reduce the number of falls and injuries and continue to make the sport we love safer.”