Maintenance at a ski resort means many things to many people depending on size of ski area, geographic region, and leadership of the ski resort/area and from your perspective what your role is in doing, directing or reviewing maintenance. Of course there are many things which require maintenance, whether it be daily, weekly or monthly, yearly or some when necessary. Much of the maintenance can be dictated by insurance, regulation, tramway boards, permit conditions and state building codes.
Maintenance can be safety related, risk avoidance related (insurance), function oriented and appearance oriented. No matter the reason, maintenance is a reflection of leadership and a ski resort’s/area’s organizational health. I will be bold and make the claim that a ski resort/area exhibiting excellent maintenance has good leadership, has a healthy organizational culture, a better than average bottom line and most important a very loyal customer base. I am not implying that maintenance is the cause of any of these positive attributes more the by product. It may be recognized in the c-suite either as a necessary evil and given minimum attention or as an important component of creating a good workplace and an excellent customer experience.
Where does your resort/area stand?
What does good maintenance look like?
Being a mountain ops oriented newsletter, let’s look at lifts, trails, vehicle maintenance, snowmaking and facilities, although facilities is not always associated with mountain operations. It is often presumed that extra resources, human and money are need to bring about good maintenance, this is so not true. We have all seen ski resorts/areas which are small but neat as a pin functioning well with very limited staff, Pats Peak in Henniker, NH comes to mind and larger ski resorts/areas with plenty of staff yet showing signs of inattention to detail, lack of paint and tidiness, no examples given for obvious reason. Neither the positive or negative example is a function of money, but rather attitude and leadership.
I will grant that having the right tools, which costs money, enables good to great maintenance but if the two non-monetary elements, attitude and leadership, aren’t present no matter how good the tools are the maintenance will be subpar, or a more polite way to say it is “good enough to get by”. Good maintenance is cleanliness and being orderly. How many times have you loaded a lift where the lift shack is not in the best of shape, in need of paint, windows cracked, hand written signs stuck in windows, tools laying on the ground, ramp not tended to? Pretty good indicators that the lift maintenance at this imaginary ski resort/area is just good enough to get by. Good maintenance requires attention to detail, these telltale signs are indicators that detail is not part of the DNA of the mountain ops team. How many times did the CEO, VP, Mtn Mgr., Lift Maintenance Mgr. or Lift Operations Mgr. load that lift with these conditions in plain site?
Lift Maintenance is without question a vital part of any ski resort for the obvious safety and operational reasons. Fortunately insurance companies and state regulators (Tramway Boards) use ANSI B77.1-2011 as the mandated guide for maintenance on all variety of lifts used in ski resorts/areas. Some insurance inspectors go beyond ANSI B77 usually based on experience, many have a lot of years inspecting and have seen the unexpected. While this excellent guide exists wide variations exist in the level of detailed maintenance, just ask the state and insurance inspectors.
I will go to my example of cleanliness and orderliness, not that these are absolute metrics of how well lifts are maintained at a ski resort/area but I’ll wager on the orderly clean shop. Obviously there are other metrics that can be applied to a lift maintenance operation, many resorts use them. Others do so on an annual basis and others only review the data when there is an issue, usually an unwanted one. Some of the common ones are lift down time by lift by time period, total maintenance down time by lift over a period of time, times of response and resolution, maintenance cost against down time by lift and total maintenance cost by lift. These metrics can be used to improve attitude within a lift maintenance department and be strong tools for building teamwork within the department. They need to be known by all, discussed openly and used as targets for improvement.
Vehicle Maintenance is less obvious then lifts as groomers are out at night, snowmobiles are not overly visible either, truck and heavy equipment not publicly noticeable and buses do get scrutiny from outside the inner working of the ski resort, but they are all vital to the smooth operation of any ski resort. A snowmobile malfunction while a lift mechanic or ski patroller is in route to an incident just adds to the stress of management and again the customer experience. Metrics here are also important and can be used just within the shop to keep an eye on performance.
As for snowmaking maintenance, there are basically two schools of thought, do all the preventive maintenance in the summer and the other is to do as the system is fired up to make snow. Guess which one fits good maintenance? I have had discussions with both camps and typically it is budget constraint that puts one in the “as the system is fired up camp”. The downside here is quite obvious, trying do preventive maintenance on equipment as you are trying to go into production early season is very tough. The demands of weather windows are driving the need to get online and it is easy to say we’ll get it later. I don’t think the on hill guys will remember that decision fondly when the ball valve handle won’t budge from lack if greasing on a windy cold night.
Let’s skip the trail and facility discussion, I think you get the point. Facilities play a huge role in creating the guests’ impressions. It is often said the book ends can make or break whether a guest returns or not. A disorganized parking lot, dirty bathrooms, a down sign or malfunctioning light are small detail in the staffs’ mind but the impact on a guest can be huge.
So a clean and orderly shop and planning are part of good maintenance but what else makes for good maintenance? Clean and orderly come from attitude of all, top to bottom, planning comes from the top, wanting to know the game plan but the other attributes of good maintenance are accountability, access to information, – especially technical information for components being worked on, the setting of expectations and consistent training. Not a lot of out of pocket investment to meet these requirements but it does take leadership. That leadership, can come from a department manager all the way up to CEO. It’s best if it comes from the top down but as a department manager don’t wait for someone else to take the initiative, and do what’s right, now! You will be happier, you’ll have less angst on a daily basis and those around you will see the leadership.
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