Two seat belt malfunctions on the Cowboy Coaster this month triggered a national recall, according to Snow King Mountain Resort officials.
General Manager Ryan Stanley said the incidents spurred alpine coaster company Wiegand Sports to replace the seat belt buckles on its 24 coasters across the country. It’s unclear whether the company replaced buckles on the rest of its 216 coasters around the world.
The malfunctions at Snow King were the first known instances of the defect, Stanley said.
“Our team discovered it,” he said, “and they did an excellent job of shutting things down appropriately, contacting the manufacturer [and] dealing with the situation.”
The first seat belt released Aug. 5 during a coaster ride. The passenger was uninjured. Stanley said operations staff closed the ride for one day, investigated the seat belts before reopening it and notified Wiegand Sports.
The coaster manufacturer could not be reached for comment.
Three days after the first incident on Aug. 8, a second seat belt released. Snow King again closed the coaster, and the next day it sent the faulty buckles to Wiegand Sports, which found the products had failed three years into their guaranteed five-year lifespan.
Stanley said the company — headquartered in Stevensville, Montana, near Missoula — replaced the buckles for free in two shipments. When Snow King received the first shipment Aug. 10, he said, staff installed them in five of the coaster’s roughly 50 carts.
The coaster operated at limited capacity until Aug. 13, when the resort received the second shipment and replaced the remaining buckles.
Stanley said Snow King took a “very conservative approach,” more so than the manufacturer recommended, and never operated the coaster after the second malfunction before replacing the buckles. Since then, he said, it has not had any problems with the new buckles.
“At the end of the day,” Stanley said, “the team handled the situation exceptionally well — closed things down with everybody’s safety in mind.”
He said the resort has implemented a new procedure to double-check buckles before rides.
Another safety feature Stanley noted is the brake lever riders can use to slow or stop themselves in case of an emergency.
The coaster, constructed in 2015, was an early attempt by the resort to cultivate a broader user base through summer activities. Snow King has said for years that it loses hundreds of thousands of dollars on winter operations each season, and the coaster was essentially an effort to subsidize the ski lifts.
The coasters have become a fixture of many major ski resorts across the U.S. and worldwide. In the West, Vail, Breckenridge, Park City and Snowbird have joined the alpine coaster club, as have a dozen resorts on the East Coast. Abroad, Germany has 43, China 25, France 21 and Italy 13.