The agency investigating the cause of a Stowe Mountain Resort zip line crash last September that killed an employee has determined a piece of equipment that failed during the descent had been used by the resort for three times as long as the equipment manufacturer recommended.
Scott Lewis, 53, of Stowe, died Sept. 23, when he was descending the “Perry Merrill” section of the three-part ZipTour ride. Lewis, an advanced-level member of the zip line crew for two years, was on the clock at the time of the crash, which happened around 3 p.m. It is not known how many guests rode the ZipTour earlier that day.
A personal GPS monitor he was wearing indicated he was traveling 82 mph when his equipment failed, according to the investigation by the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
According to the report, the cause of the crash was the failure of the “main rider attachment lanyard,” a flexible piece of canvas similar in material to the strapping used by rock climbers.
The report states the lanyard that broke was four years old and showing signs of wear after being through nearly three full seasons of “intensive use,” when the manufacturer recommends changing them out every season, or as they wear out.
The resort was fined $27,306 by VOSHA for two workplace safety violations — 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.
Resort spokesperson Quinn Kelsey issued a statement just before press deadline, noting the ZipTour will not operate this summer.
“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,” the statement reads.
The Stowe Reporter received several hundreds of pages of documents from VOSHA late Tuesday, just a few hours before deadline, and will continue to report more in depth on the investigation.
Investigators interviewed resort employers from the top management to the tour operators, as well as outside people including lawyers, engineers, local police, representatives from ZipTour creator Terra Nova and equipment company Petzl, lawyers, engineers, local police, and more. All told, more than 30 people were interviewed as part of the investigation, according to VOSHA documents.
Numerous employees were investigated as to how inspections are handled, and most told similar versions of the same drills.
Mountain Operations supervisor Bryan Munch told investigators no tours were conducted in 2020 due to COVID-19, and he had done one monthly inspection in 2021, using a checklist to complete it — a third-party inspection team does an annual inspection before the start of the summer zip season.
He said the monthly inspections — which take into consideration the literal nuts and bolts of the zip line infrastructure — are complemented by daily inspections of all gear, lines, platforms and decking. Those daily inspections are done in the morning before the tours start, he said.
Inspections are not done throughout the day between tours, the report noted.
Another supervisor, Taylor Beaty, said as part of the third-party annual inspection, the trolleys — the mechanism that conveys riders down the zip — are disassembled, cleaned and x-rayed to check for any cracks that a person cannot see.
Lewis was wearing a personal GPS at the time of the crash, and the Garmin data pulled from it showed he was traveling at 82 miles per hour seconds before impact. According to the VOSHA report, the manufacturer says the zip line is meant to be used between 50-60 mph, which is the top speed the resort boasted in its marketing materials, but added “there is no speed maximum.”