The Big Picture

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If you operate an adventure park, there are a number of broad risk management concepts to consider. You want to provide a reasonable management of the risks your guests will face; no matter what activity, they will encounter some element of danger. And you may need to meet any number of local, state, and federal regulations, rules, guidelines, and case law that apply to adventure parks in particular, or to recreation and amusement parks in general. Where to start?

First, determine whether there are any legal and/or regulatory requirements imposed upon your operations and/or premises. Are there any statutory laws and/or case law that impact your operation? Membership organizations like the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), or consultation with other adventure park operators or a professional vendor in your state, can be a good place to begin your search.

Quiz time: Is an adventure park operator required to provide a completely safe operation and premisis? Answer: No. Amusement sports carry a higher duty of care, but are never required to eliminate all risks. Regulation of aerial adventure parks in the U.S. and Canada vary jurisdiction to jurisdiction and change rapidly.

Further, few jurisdictions have codified and defined “inherent risk” for aerial adventure park and zip line operations, unlike the more common statutes that exist for more established sports such as horseback-riding and skiing. In the United States, numerous standards have been developed and may apply, including ACCT, PRCA-ANS Standard, ASTM F29 59-14 Standard Practice for Special Requirements for Aerial Adventure Courses, and OSHA workplace rules, among others.

However, many states have either a recreational use statute and/or case law that relates to “assumption of the risks,” which are inherent to a range of activities. These laws may not specifically address adventure park activities and are not likely to apply, but they may.

Another key question, especially in the absence of legal statutes: What is the legal “standard of care” that is due adventure park participants? Consult with local counsel familiar with your operation and the laws of the state or jurisdiction where you are operating. The standard of care will be what a reasonable operator would have done under the same or similar circumstances.

Since many of the potential risks associated with the operation of aerial adventure parks are not known, park operators should carefully analyze all potential risks, and develop open communication with legal counsel, insurance companies, trade associations, professional vendors, other operators, and local regulators.

Finally, aerial adventure park operators must consider that everything they do, both pre- and post-loss (see related story “Managing Risk”), will be scrutinized and criticized by a potential plaintiff and his or her experts. Knowing and doing what is considered reasonable is an absolute must.

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About Author

Mark is the founder and president of AlpenRisk Safety Advisors, LLC, a risk management and safety consulting practice serving the snowsports, high-risk recreation, and hospitality industries, and has more than 30 years of experience in risk management, insurance, safety, loss control, regulatory compliance, and employment practices. He has been involved in creating many of the risk management, loss control, incident investigation, mountain safety, and terrain park guidelines used throughout the snowsports industry today. He currently serves as chairman of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) Risk Management Committee, the New Hampshire Tramway Safety Board, and ASTM’s F-27 Committee. Mark can be reached at mark@alpenrisk.com.

Michael has more than 20 years of experience in the aerial adventure business as a practitioner, builder, trainer, tour operator, and business consultant. He has helped design and launch 16 commercial zip line canopy tours and aerial adventure parks in North America, and consulted on more than 100 other commercial projects. He currently works as the managing partner of ArborTrek Canopy Adventures with tour operations at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in northern Vermont and Fall Creek Falls State Park in central Tennessee, and serves on the Association for Challenge Course Technology Board of Directors. Reach him at m.smith@arbortrek.com.

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