Training Day


The adventure park industry has seen sweeping changes in recent years, and operators are navigating new methods and requirements for training staff, as parks take on a different breed of client and new types of activities. Receiving the proper training at the right time is key to making sure everyone—staff and customers—has an optimal experience while the industry continues to grow.

Training is a big deal. In fact, experts point to a lack of professional development as the leading cause of accidents in the aerial adventure market.

“Insurance providers will tell you that 99 percent of injuries are due to human error, not equipment error,” says John Walker, founder of Bonsai Design, a Colorado-based park design, installation, and training company. “And most of the time, the errors are made by staff, not customers.”

Jamie Barrow, director of operation training and risk management for Vail Resorts’ adventure parks, says that historically, employees were more at risk for injury than guests, as staff spent more time at exposed risk—exhaustion, dehydration, and spending time at height and in remote parts of courses all coming into play.

However, he says this is changing as the volume of customers grows. What is still unknown is whether the industry is seeing the same percentage of incidents per visitor hours. “If we had an incident rate of 1 per 100,000 participant hours before, it would look like we are having more incidents as an industry if we go from 1 million participant hours in one year to 10 million participant hours the next year,” says Barrow. “Greater research and better tracking of incidents needs to be done so that as an industry, we can truly tell how well we are doing at keeping people safe.”

The New Environment

Walker agrees the industry is facing a changing environment, and one that’s evolved rather quickly. “In the early ’90s, the challenge course was sort of the primary program, and it was primarily used for education or team building,” he says. “The methodologies, strategies, regulations, and training were different for those types of parks.”

In the early days of challenge courses, according to Walker, operators often got by with basic training handbooks circulated by manufacturers when a course was installed.

Also different is that today’s operators are, at times, unfamiliar with the variety of new equipment. And, investors new to aerial parks may see the profit potential but be unfamiliar with safety issues.

Today, a host of new activities are being introduced, and parks have become increasingly entertainment- and adventure-focused. As these activities draw this new, larger audience—the general public—the expectations for an incident-free experience rise, and with that, the level of regulation and training needed to meet it.

Equipment manufacturers usually provide training upon installation, but what happens after that varies from course to course. Though many operators opt for an in-house training program, others see advantages to bringing in a third party, either for initial training or later, to conduct refreshers or recertification. “Some operators do a good job providing third-party training every year,” says Walker. “But I’ve found a lot of smaller operations are less likely to do a recertification or bring in a third-party trainer if they don’t have to.”

Third-party training is becoming more available. An increasing number of companies, like Bonsai, provide programs to train staff as well as train trainers. Bonsai’s courses include several levels of practitioner skills, course managers, and course inspectors. The company teaches to ACCT standards when possible.

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About Author

April Darrow is a Denver-based editor and writer. She was communications director for the National Ski Patrol, where she captained Ski Patrol Magazine and other publications, and is a former editor of the NSAA Journal. Most recently, she served as copy editor for Heinrich Marketing, where her clients included Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Humana and Kroger.

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