In the ski business, not many outside mountain operations recognize the oversight that comes from outside the ski resort that is directed to lifts. Many a lift maintenance manager’s life is made more stressful by maintaining the paper work than the actual electrical, electronic and mechanical issues of a lift. (for ease of documentation and work orders see www.steepmanagement.com)
As the demand is put on ski areas for more uphill capacity, the complexity of ski lifts grows exponentially. Add to the new four season demand on ski hills and a lift maintenance tech’s summer season gets more compressed and challenging. The view from the office might be great but work is demanding, technical and has a high degree of precision.
It has become apparent to me that the level of importance and respect given to the lift technicians who service cable cars and lifts is significantly different between Europe and North America. If one reviewed the SAM Marketplace classified today, you’d find that about 18% of jobs listed are for lift maintenance and if you did an online search you’d find that the most frequent job listed in the ski industry is for a lift maintenance technician. If someone wanted to become a lift maintenance technician what training programs are offered? Few. Many are in house on the job, some are at technical colleges in a ski management program but not with a concentration in lift maintenance. The Rocky Mountain Lift Association was created recognizing the need for training and is probably the best source for in-depth training in a concentrated format in the USA. In comparison if you lived in Austria and wanted to become a lift technician you could enroll at Landesberufsschule Hallein, a boarding school in Salzburg that has a specific program for lift technicians. The school has 3 complete lifts under cover in the school for students to train on. The culture considers being lift technician a profession and there is a sense of pride in doing the work.
From the top level management down, there has to be a commitment to respect the work these men and women do – it is vital to the success of the business – having lifts run consistently and safely – customers expect it.
Step up the training – review your staff – what level of skills do they have? Work with suppliers to take advantage of training they offer – explore online training for electronics and electrical skills – have in-house training. An excellent example I have seen is a lunch room with a projector used to display the subject of the day and the staff discuss the section or component of a lift being shown – lots of positives to this method.
Make better hires – hire for attitude, desire and ability, the skill can be acquired. Hire based on of the 3 attributes of: attitude, desire and ability. Then pay accordingly for the skill.
Hate to say it GM”s … but pay better – compare what you pay a journeyman lift technician against what say Caterpillar pays their diesel techs, the lift mechanic needs more skill and is subject to more adverse working condition than the Cat tech. If you had the right staff you probably need less staff than you have now. It doesn’t have to cost you more total dollars with the right staff.
Provide the tools and systems to make the work easier – let the tech be engaged in his or her work, give feedback, solicit feedback.
Any ski hill is only as good as the snow, terrain, the lifts and the people who make it happen. You don’t have total control over the snow but you do over the last three. Build a plan today to make your lift maintenance department the best it can be.