Vail Resorts has been fined $27,306 for two workplace safety violations that led to the death of an employee at Stowe Mountain Resort, VT, last fall.
Scott Lewis, 53, of Stowe, was killed on September 23, 2021, while descending the Perry Merrill section of a three-part ZipTour at the resort. Lewis had been a member of the zip line crew for two years and was working at the time of the accident.
“VOSHA’s investigation found that this workplace fatality, like other incidents in Vermont, was a preventable loss felt by all involved.”
– VOSHA statement
The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) established that Lewis, who was wearing a Garmin GPS tracking device, was traveling at 82mph when a piece of equipment failed during his descent. The manufacturer states that the zip line is designed to be used at speeds up to 60mph, although there is no speed maximum.
According to the report, the cause of the crash was the failure of the main rider attachment lanyard, which had been used for three times longer than recommended. The report adds that the lanyard was four years old and showing signs of wear after being through nearly three full seasons of “intensive use.” The manufacturer recommends changing them out every season or as they wear out. Vail Resorts had not only failed to replace the lanyards every year but resisted doing so, writes the Stowe Reporter.
Shortly after purchasing Stowe Mountain Resort in 2017, the director of operations and risk management at Vail Resorts, Jamie Barrow, emailed the president of Terra Nova (the ZipTour manufacturer), objecting to its recommendation that the lanyards be replaced every year if they were under heavy use, reports VT Digger.
“We have been and continue to work with the Vermont authorities concerning this accident. Safety is our highest priority, and Stowe Resort and the entire Vail Resorts family extend our deepest sympathy and support to this employee’s family and friends.”
– Vail Resorts statement
Investigators were told that the ZipTour was thoroughly examined once a month, and all gear, lines, platform, and decking were inspected daily before opening. The ZipTour is tested annually by an external company, the last recorded one of which at Stowe Mountain Resort was in 2019.
The fine of $27,306 was for failing to provide a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees” and failing to provide training to each employee required to use personal protective equipment.
A resort spokesperson said that ZipTour will not operate this summer, and it is unknown if it will reopen.
The ZipTour consists of three zip line spans, each with two cables side-by-side, totaling 10,193’ feet of riding cable (just under two miles in length), making it the second-longest zip line tour in the United States.