Park Briefs — Fall 2017

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Getting Schooled at Summer Ops Camp

In early September, Adventure Park Insider’s sister publication, Ski Area Management, gathered 170 ski area representatives, vendors, and speakers from the U.S., Canada, and Japan to talk about growing from winter-centric businesses to ones that can increasingly draw revenue during the summer months. Summer Ops Camp, as the program is called, was held at Killington Resort, Vt., Sept. 5-7, and gave operators insights into the opportunities, choices, trends, and pitfalls in developing a summer activities program.

The overall agenda included seminars on everything from marketing and branding to the state of the adventure-park industry, mountain biking, and risk management. Killington proved to be a particularly suitable setting for the event, having embarked, in 2014, on an ambitious, five-year expansion of its summer offerings. Camp attendees received a behind-the-scenes look at the management and operation of the activities in the resort’s Adventure Center, including a mountain bike park, mountain coaster, Skye Ropes Course, maze, Zipline Racer, Soaring Eagle, jump tower, paintball and lazer tag, alpine tubing, and Segway tours. The resort is a model of multi-activity adventure, in short.

Product demonstrations and hands-on trial were a big part of the program. A Vendor Showcase with more than 35 suppliers provided an arena for one-on-one presentations and explanations of products and services, with a major focus on aerial adventures.

The annual Summer Ops Camp will move to a western location next year and remain in the early September time frame.

2018 ACCT Conference: Shoot for the Stars

The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) will hold its 28th annual International Conference and Expo Feb. 1-4, 2018, at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas. As usual, the event will include a variety of workshops, certification courses, networking opportunities, and trade show. More than 1,000 industry professionals are expected to attend.

There will be 12 certification and training courses offered in the days before the conference begins (Jan. 30 – Feb. 1), as well as the Inspector Certification Program Prep Course for those taking the ACCT Inspector Certification exams on Sunday, Feb. 4. The courses include: OSHA 10-hour Construction Course; First Aid for the Challenge Course Professional; Professional Inspector’s Forum; In-House Inspector Training; Wood Pole Inspection and Safety, and more.

There will be an early-arrivals reception on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 31. Then on Thursday, pre-conference courses and training sessions will run most of the day, preceding the opening ceremony and keynote speaker that afternoon. This year’s keynote is Nate Regier, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who, among many other accomplishments, has developed training, coaching, and measurement tools and systems for Next Element, a company specializing in leadership training and coaching.

New this year, the ACCT annual general meeting will take place at 1 p.m. on Friday.

More than 110 different general conference sessions will be held on Friday and Saturday. Each session will be 90 minutes long, and cover a wide variety of topics in specific tracks. All attendees who are fully registered can attend the sessions on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information and to register for the 2018 ACCT International Conference and Expo, visit www.acctconference.com.

Shaping the Regulatory Environment

As aerial adventure parks continue to grow in number, they find their way onto the radar of state regulators. ACCT is among the industry groups that are working to ensure the regulations are practical as well as protective of the public. And the organization plans to become even more active in the future, in anticipation of continuing attention from regulators.

Most recently, Kentucky has gotten into the act. Regulators with the state’s Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over aerial parks, issued proposed regulations over the past summer, and have held public meetings on them. Brian Brun, of Environmental Resources Inc., has been representing stakeholders as an industry liaison on behalf of ACCT. ERI is an ACCT PVM, and Brun is a member of ACCT’s government relations committee.

“Brian has developed a good rapport with the Department of Agriculture,” ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney says. “The first draft raised alarms, because the proposed rules were vague and overreaching. The drafters have made changes that for the most part are good. It’s still a process. “

Tierney says, “The Agency has been receptive to public and industry input. It is anxious to create a sound set of regulations. We’ve had a lot of input. They cite our standard, and that’s always a good sign. A draft of the regulations is on the Department of Agriculture’s website.

“Once finalized, these will be passed to the legislature, and they are scheduled to go into effect in July 2018. There will be time to educate people and operators ahead of that time.”

Tierney notes that the rules for Kentucky come after Tennessee and Michigan revised and expanded their rules last year, and that work on regulations in North Carolina is ongoing.

To help the industry manage future regulatory changes, ACCT is working with a “government relations policy person” on a consulting basis. The consultant is developing a long-term plan to proactively address regulatory issues, and to revise the association’s position statement on regulations. The statement will reference states that have produced sound regulations, to help guide those states that have yet to expressly address adventure parks.

“We want to be involved, at the table, looking at drafts, pointing out things that won’t work, and supplying definitions to keep regulations from being vague,” Tierney notes. “The position statement will be a nice calling card to send to various regulators. We want to help them develop good, sound regulations.

“That’s one of the key roles we, as an organization, can fill. We’re starting with a small budget for this policy person this year, and we’ll ramp up our efforts, and budget, next year,” he says.

Program Accreditation Moves Forward—Slowly

Without uniform or consistent regulation across the country, what can an aerial park do to assure visitors it operates responsibly? Providing that assurance is a major goal of ACCT’s program accreditation project. Progress on developing the accreditation program continues, though it is moving slowly.

ACCT’s Program Accreditation Task Force did a lot of work over the late summer to model the program. At press time in early fall, the Accreditation and Certification Committee was set to have its say on the details, too. Then, in November, the program will enter a pilot test with a couple of companies, including an aerial adventure park.

As a result of the pilot program, ACCT expects to further tweak the program. Once that round of development is complete, ACCT plans to do a soft launch with a small number of operators. At press time, the timetable for this was spring 2018. And then the experience gained during 2018 will help ACCT continue to refine the model.

“It’s been a long process and it’s moving slowly, but it has to,” says ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney. “There are lots of details to work through,” including the specific elements of the program and who will accredit the operations participating in the program.

“We’ll release information as we can,” Tierney adds. “We don’t even know the cost yet, and obviously, that’s a consideration.” Another wrinkle: ACCT will likely create separate programs, to account for differences between commercial and traditional programs. “There could be two separate but related programs,” he notes. “It has to work for the different types of operations. It won’t be one size fits all.”

ACCT will provide an update on the pilot program, and on the accreditation program itself, at its annual conference in early February. “That will be another place for people to have input as to what will or will not work for them,” Tierney says.

Emergency Braking: Head Rush Changes the Game

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that the Head Rush Technologies white paper on emergency arrest devices (EADs) has focused attention on the safety of zip lines. In particular, the safety of long, high-speed zip lines.

The company’s white paper, which spells out stringent requirements for use of its emergency brakes, is also a reminder that change is a staple of the aerial adventure business, which continues to evolve quickly. Yesterday’s state of the art is quickly overtaken by innovations, regulations, and standards.

That said, the white paper’s impact on zip line operators has been enormous in some cases, leading to the costly modification of some installations and the shuttering of others. If all this leads to fewer guest injuries and increased confidence in operators, perhaps parks will judge the growing pains to have been worthwhile.

In the white paper, Head Rush mandates that an emergency arrest device (EAD) must be used on all zipSTOP or zipSTOP IR installations and meet ACCT and ASTM standards. Head Rush discourages guide-activated EADs, and it requires that the EAD must not be engaged during standard operation. It must also have adequate room to provide full braking for the participant, separate and apart from the braking area necessary for the primary brake.

A key question: Does “meet ACCT and ASTM standards” mean that an installation must meet one or the other, or both? The official answer from Head Rush:

“If zip line emergency braking complies with ASTM F2959-16, then no other requirements need to be met.

“If zip line emergency braking only complies with ACCT, then the EAD must also:

   • Be verified by a qualified person that the participant experiences suitable deceleration and is verified, through unmanned testing, that serious injury or death will not occur upon failure of the primary brake.”

“Please note that while ACCT recognizes guide activated brakes as emergency brakes, Head Rush Technologies does not,” the official statement says. “Guide activated brakes most likely do not provide emergency braking for the first guide down the zip line, and are too prone to human error to be considered a viable emergency braking technique by Head Rush. A guide activated brake cannot be used as an EAD for a zipSTOP or zipSTOP IR installation.”

Head Rush does not endorse any particular type or brand of EAD, but senior director for marketing and sales Bill Carlson notes that zipSTOPS, spring packs, and Bonsai Designs emergency brakes and EADs can be engineered to meet the requirements.

However, operators of some zip lines, especially longer/faster commercial zip lines, find it difficult or impossible to meet those requirements. For some installations, there are no drop-in, inexpensive solutions. For others, it is impractical to modify or extend the arrival platform so that the currently available EADs can be installed.

The upshot of the white paper is to compel some operators to make difficult choices: spend the time and money to modify their courses, continue to use discouraged forms of emergency braking, or shut down.

Sweating the Details

The initial white paper drew responses from several sources, including ACCT itself. The organization pointed out that the ANSI/ACCT standard does not refer to EADs at all, but to emergency brakes. ANSI/ACCT does not require emergency brakes for all zip lines, but only those where the arrival speed is greater than 6 mph and where a participant could experience “unintended and/or harmful contact with terrain, objects or people in the zip line landing area.” Nor does ANSI/ACCT specify what type of braking system is required.

In response, Head Rush clarified its statements about both ASTM and ACCT standards.

Aside from the new requirements, the white paper took many by surprise because it is retroactive. Prior to 2017, says one builder, Head Rush simply required “an appropriate backup brake.”

Another builder laments that the short-term impact of the more stringent requirements has been to remove some zipSTOPs from operation. “A lot of those products have been installed, and will keep people safer,” he says. He acknowledges, though, that it appears at least some emergency brake installations “have not been fully tested, or were not sized properly.”

How Did This Come About?

Head Rush says its new policy stems from a broad concern for the long-term health of the industry. “We had been talking about it for a year before we published it, just prior to 2017 ACCT Convention,” says Carlson. “It stemmed from visiting a lot of locations; very few had emergency brakes. It had been in our manual from day one, and in standards for a long time. And it had been ignored.

“We did it to increase awareness. The initiative came from a position of protecting the health of the industry. That’s a big part of what we’re doing, helping to educate the industry. The [Head Rush] white paper on braking dynamics is also part of that. We feel we’re the experts at braking, that’s where we play.

“We have a strong tie to the business. We knew guest injuries would hurt the entire industry.”

What’s Happened Since?

Carlson says Head Rush expected the white paper would be a hot topic at last year’s ACCT Conference, but adds, “It wasn’t until a month or two later that we saw the resistance and concern.”

“People ask: ‘What can we do?’ We say, you can use a second zipSTOP, spring packs, Bonsai’s solution, among others,” Carlson says.

Head Rush acknowledges that its position puts some parks, and some builders, in a difficult spot. But the company didn’t see another option. “Some long, fast zip lines were not designed properly in the first place. The platform is not long enough for an emergency brake,” Carlson says. “To find a solution, parks go back to the builders, who are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“We knew we were going to put some people into a bind. We knew some might stop buying from us.”

Vendors say that has, in fact, happened. “It’s too bad,” says one, “because it’s a good product, and has been used by a lot of people.”

The Solutions

Vendors and operators have pursued a variety of solutions to either meet the Head Rush specifications or to find alternate means of satisfying the requirement for emergency braking for existing tours and zip lines. Among their solutions:

1. Modify it. Some zip lines can be modified at a small cost to work with or without a zipSTOP. The arrival platform can be extended to accommodate an emergency brake that meets the Head Rush parameters or for a different braking system. In some instances, operations can put more sag into the cable to decrease arrival speeds, though that may lead to more retrievals.

But if guests arrive at greater than 10 mph, solutions become more costly. “There are not many options for stopping from 30 mph in a short distance,” one builder noted. Rebuilding or extending a platform can get expensive. Estimates range from $1,000 to $10,000 per platform, depending on how much work is required. Some parks require a complete rebuild; one spent $250,000 on an overhaul, one builder says.

2. Ignore it. Some parks have simply chosen to operate in violation of the Head Rush policy. They continue to use emergency brakes as they have in the past, and assume the risk that these continue to prove effective.

3. Rename it. According to some observers, a few vendors have changed their manuals to define the zipSTOP as the backup brake, even though in practice, guests contact the backup brake first. For example, in some parks, guides still operate a Prusik as the so-called primary brake.

4. Shut down. Some operators, particularly summer camps with multiple activities, simply shut down their zipSTOP-equipped zip lines, and focused on their other activities. Vendors report that a few zip tours closed until they could implement a solution.

5. Develop new technology. “Our clients said, ‘we’ll stop using the zipSTOP until you come up with a solution,’” says one builder—a solution that may or may not allow parks to continue using the zipSTOP.

Several companies are said to be designing just such solutions. One observer predicts there will be three new zip line emergency brakes or other solutions on display at the ACCT Conference in February. Some may be made generally available; some will be proprietary.

One such solution: ZipFlyer’s new magnetic trolley (see New Products, page 16) that can limit speeds and provide more consistent arrival speeds, which makes braking—both primary and backup—easier. Another possibility: an emergency braking system that uses a self-retracting lanyard (SRL) and shock packs.

If nothing else, this summer has shown once again that the aerial adventure business is still young, and evolving and changing fast.

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About Author

Olivia Rowan, Publisher — olivia@adventureparkinsider.com
Rick Kahl, Editor — rick@adventureparkinsider.com
Dave Meeker, Senior Editor — dave@adventureparkinsider.com
Sarah Borodaeff, Digital Editor –– sarah@adventureparkinsider.com

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